20 Questions: Key Research Needed Before the Facilities Bond

1:58 pm

Neighborhood Schools Alliance members Lynn Schore and Steve Linder contributed to this report.

In the past few months there have been numerous newspaper articles about the deplorable state of Portland Public Schools (PPS) school buildings and the potential bond needed for covering a $1.4 billion bill for repairs and construction. Before the PPS School board makes any decisions on a bond or major facilities initiatives, some critical questions need to asked and answered. Here is a start for that list of questions.

Facilities plans

Despite the fact that two extensive facilities reports were done in the last 8 years (Long Range Facility Plan and the KPMG study) PPS paid Magellan K-12, a consultant company from Texas, nearly 1 million dollars to perform a complete facilities assessment. Magellan is a driving force behind the proposed 1.4 million dollar facilities tab and the need for a bond. The full Magellan plan is unavailable to the public.

1. Why did PPS pick Magellan?
2. Why is the Magellan plan unavailable to the public?
3. If Magellan K-12 claims to have a vision for “21st Century” schools why does their website state that their last publications and conference workshops were in 1998 and 1999?
3. Does Magellan have any ties to any PPS employees, in particular do they have any ties to Cathy Mincberg, PPS’s Chief Financial Officer who is from Houston?
4. What was wrong with the last two major facilities plans?


In Houston, a few days after a bond was passed, a group of families along with a state legislator filed a legal challenge in federal court. “In the federal lawsuit, the families allege that HISD provides inferior academic programs and facilities for schools in predominantly black and other minority communities. The lawsuit also accuses HISD of violating the Federal Voting Rights Act and the Texas Open Meetings Act.” –Houston Chronicle

5. Did Magellan consult for Houston Independent school District on their latest bond?
6. How is the PPS and our School Board going to insure that funds for facility construction and repairs are distributed in an equitable fashion, and provide quality facilities for all students?


A December 15, 2007 article in The Oregonian states that the expected 1.4 billion dollar tab is for 89 school campus and 14 administrative offices and then at the same time says the bond is for 311 “PPS buildings”. The study cited in the article compares our buildings to suburban districts which were built more recently.

7. What makes up the difference between the 311 PPS buildings and the 103 schools and offices?
8. Are trailers included in that total?
9. How do PPS facilities compare to other urban districts?

Rosa Parks as a model for the future

The board and Foundation call Rosa Parks their model for future school building. Yet Rosa Parks started as a K-8 during construction, went to K-6 for its first year and now is being converted to a K-5. Many schools surrounding Rosa Parks were closed. The building is at 105% capacity right now, and middle schoolers will need to be bussed all the way to George. (Their former middle school, Portsmouth, was converted to K-8, and doesn’t have space.)

10. What assurance does that public have that future planning will be based on sound data?

More closures

Big bonds like this in other cities have resulted in disruption, closures, and consolidations.
11. Are closures anticipated before 2010?
12. Will closures and consolidations be a part of any new construction?
13. What buildings and properties will be permanently lost (sold) to pay for this 1.4 billion dollar bill?

Selling the bond

Numerous local newspaper articles have appeared since October regarding PPS facilities.

14. What is the public relations budget for this bond?
15. Has PPS made any specific efforts to “sell it”?

Building Maintenance and PPS Workers

Custodian and maintenance had to fight to maintain current wages or get basic cost of living increases; the skilled trades workforce, including carpenters, plumbers, and electricians, has been drastically reduced; the entire custodian staff was fired illegally, and maintenance budget has been reduced so that only emergency repairs are being done.

16. Wouldn’t it make better sense to take care of our existing buildings by increasing the maintenance and custodial forces?
17. What is the PPS maintenance and repair budget?
18. What is the maintenance plan for the infrastructure, especially the boilers?

Establishing Trust

Whitaker Middle School was closed many years ago amid promises to build a new school for that neighborhood. Students were initially bussed 7 miles each way to Tubman, and are now bussed to Ockley Green or dispersed among other neighborhood K-8 schools.

19. Will the promises to the community around Whitaker be fulfilled?

Citizen input and truly democratic decision-making

The citizen oversight committee includes representatives from corporations and corporate groups, including PDC, PGE, Nike, and PacifiCorp.

20. Why is the “citizen” committee so heavily weighted by corporate representatives?

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Portland parent activist Anne Trudeau helped found the Neighborhood Schools Alliance.

filed under: Equity, Facilities, Labor Relations, School Closures

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8 Responses

  1. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Wow, this stuff is good!! Terrific questions. Shows how complicated some of these issues become. Nice job!!!

  2. Comment from Nancy:

    Lynn and Anne:

    Excellent research and compelling questions!

  3. Comment from marcia:

    I also wondered about the Mincberg/magellan connection and the Houston connection in general. Every time I walk down our hallway that has a disintegrating ceiling and water dripping from it, I have to wonder why they have one roofer for the entire district, and why repairs and maintenance aren’t done on a routine schedule. The buildings are not maintained, and never have been.

  4. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    The elephant in the room is high schools. The broad hint dropped in the Oregonian last month about only having enough enrollment to support eight high schools is worrisome, as was the guest opinion in the O calling for a merger of Roosevelt and Jefferson.

    Will the district be up front with their intentions in this regard before the bond, or will this be sprung on us after it passes?

    I don’t think anybody in North Portland wants to support a bond that will raise their taxes but further limit academic opportunities for their children.

    I think the district is going to have a harder time with this bond than expected if they can’t get the equity community on board. And they’re not going to get us on board until we know their intentions about high school closures or mergers.

  5. Comment from Marian:

    Excellent job! Thanks for putting it all together.

    Some new information just posted on Oregon live on the 6th tells how “Next year’s eighth graders at Portland’s Rigler and Scott elementaries will move to Madison High School to relieve overcrowding in the lower grades, Portland public schools officials have decided.”

    More of the same regarding PPS’s poor planning and inequity!

    Here’s the link:


  6. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Further evidence that the K-8 conversion was ill-conceived, ill-planned, and ill-executed.

    We need to literally start over on all of this before the facilities bond.

    K-8 was sold as a way to get more “enrichment” to the K-5 grades, when in reality it has resulted in less “enrichment” for 6-8.

    The notion of 7-12 was resoundingly rejected for Jefferson, but they snuck in 6-12 academies anyway. Now they’re sneaking in 8-12 at Madison and Franklin.

    This is reactive design. We need to be proactive in the design of our entire system.

    We need to take a step back, admit that we’ve made a massive mess of things (this is beyond debate), and start over with a comprehensive design of the configuration of our entire district. And this time, we need to focus on equity first.

  7. Comment from Anne T.:

    Thanks for the positive feedback. We wanted to do a much longer analysis, as there is so much to look at, but thought it was more important to get the basics out there. Lynn (hint, hint) often finds great references to struggles in other districts that mirror our own.

    My recommendations for great background:
    Read Rethinking Schools’ Barbara Miner’s essay on corporate control of public education. (it’s on the Neighborhood Schools Alliance site).

    To understand how corporate think takes over school boards and districts read former Houston School Board member Don McAdams “Fighting to Save Urban Schools ….and Winning”. I disagree with him totally, but it is a fascinating look at that mindset. He has consulted for PPS since 2003. He works for Broad Foundation.

    Read anything you can on the Broad Foundation (lots on the NSA site about that).

    Susan Ohanian’s site is a huge resource.

    Sorry I must go read to my daughter. Otherwise I would have put the links in.

  8. Comment from Zarwen:


    Thanks for incorporating the updates. Sorry I am so late in commenting here. I had hoped to come up with more, but I have only two questions to add (which is, perhaps, a testimony to your thoroughness!):

    1) Are the contractors who will be hired to do the actual construction tied to Magellan in any way?

    2) If there are closures/consolidations, does the District plan to provide transportation for children whose new schools will be farther away from their homes?