The Letter That Didn’t Run

by Steve, January 25th, 2008

I was kind of surprised the Oregonian ran my letter the other day, because they declined to run one I had sent in a few days earlier pointing out a factual error in their coverage of the city council meeting at Jefferson last week.

In last Thursday’s paper (I’m not going to waste time trying to find it online), James Mayer’s coverage of students and parents speaking to the council ended with the sentence “Potter and the rest of the council listened politely, but with no actual role to play in running the school system, offered no solutions.”

This is untrue, of course, and I pointed it out in my letter to the editor:

The brief report on students and parents speaking to the City Council ended with a note that the council has “no actual role to play” with regard to the school district.

The City Council does have a role in Portland Public Schools policy. In her remarks to the council, Nancy Smith referred to the joint Multnomah County and City of Portland audit of the school district’s student transfer policy, which was a funded as part of the Multnomah County income tax passed in May of 2003. This audit requested that Portland Public Schools clarify the purpose of the open transfer system, given that it has contributed to racial and socio-economic segregation, and that it conflicts with other district goals, like strong neighborhood schools.

My remarks to the council on Wednesday also referred to this audit, and pointed out that distrcit policy conflicts with the work of Erik Sten and the Bureau of Housing and Community Development. The City Council has an obligation to hold the school district accountable, and also to lobby them to bring their policies in line with the neighborhood and housing policy goals of the city.

The Willamette Week’s blog coverage also made the same error, but when I pointed it out in a comment, it was acknowledged graciously by reporter Beth Slovic. I realize this is a nuanced point, but it’s too bad the Oregonian can’t be bothered to get the story straight, given what’s at stake.

8 Responses to “The Letter That Didn’t Run”

  1. Comment from jess:

    Love the blog. Sorry I’ve lurked for so long without posting. I wrote a piece on my blog about our chance meeting today. Thanks for the conversation. Small world. I look forward to learning more about how I can help lobby the district to fund our North Portland schools.

  2. Comment from Steve:

    I love lurkers, too! We welcome your voice to the chorus demanding equity for all our children in Portland Public Schools. I especially appreciate you writing the school board and superintendent and calling for others to do the same. “If you build it, we will come” is a powerful message.

  3. Comment from seattlevisitor:

    It seems that the fight for equity against School District bureaucrats is one that can be found all over. I wish you the best in your fight and have a question for you.

    I am involved in a similar fight in Seattle where we have an aging middle school building that needs to be replaced and a High School in need of replacement or major renovation. Of course we are in the most diverse neighborhood and at the bottom of test scores etc.

    The plan is to combine these two schools, saving the District millions, and been told it’s cutting edge. In researching I found an article stating the you fine school district considered a similar idea for Jefferson a couple of years ago.

    Can anyone help shed some light on this?

    Best wishes in your fight for equity and social justice for Portland’s students and families.

    Seattle visitor

  4. Comment from Zarwen:

    The only person who really “considered” it was the wacko Superintendent, Vicki Phillips. At the time, it had nothing to do with renovating buildings; in fact, it was all about closing them! The goal was to close the middle schools that served that area and move the kids into the high school, which is terribly underenrolled.

    It is now two years later. In spite of VEHEMENT parental and community objections, the 6-12 programs were put in place, albeit in a different configuration than the one the former superintendent wanted. One neighborhood middle school was closed and immediately reopened as a magnet program for 6-12 girls; the equivalent 6-12 boys program is housed at Jefferson High. The other middle school that served that area is now a K-8.

    So, in the end, no buildings were actually closed, and these programs ended up costing the district money because they have hired extra administrators to help run them.

    Hope this info is helpful.

  5. Comment from seattlevisitor:


    Another experiment. Any word on the effect of the 6-12 boys program on gangs? Academic benefit?

  6. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    Re: 6-12 — too soon to tell. They just opened.

  7. Comment from Zarwen:


    In terms of academic benefit, not so much, unless something changes drastically in the near future. The girls’ academy opened with 180 enrolled, but the boys’ has only 55. Having so few students, they were allocated only 2 teachers. (But they still got a full-time administrator!) This for a magnet program that purported to be about business leadership/entrepreneurship. And the “academic silo” setup at Jefferson (3 tiny academies—the other 2 are co-ed) prohibits the sharing of staff or resources. Parents were complaining about the lack of a certified math teacher until the supt. hired one in Dec. from the sub pool, using sub teacher funds, for the rest of the school year.

    Bottom line: insufficient enrollment to support a meaningful program inhibits academic progress. This is what happens when an idea the community never wanted in the first place is executed anyway with poor advance research and planning.

    As you said, Seattlevisitor, an experiment.

    For more information, you can go here:

    and here:

    Good luck in your fight to preserve your middle school!

  8. Comment from Steve:

    Zarwen, I may be mistaken, but I’m pretty sure there were three teachers, and now are four for YMA.

    Still not enough, even for the basics of grades 6-9, much less electives, arts, languages, music and career pathways.

    I also believe they share PE with the other academies.