Saving our Facilities for the Future

7:26 am

There is a concise, well-stated letter to the editor from Michael Wells in the Tribune this morning, with some common sense advice for Portland Public Schools.

“It would be extremely shortsighted for the public schools to let property go, only to have to buy land in an inflated and crowded market in five, 10 or 20 years,” writes Wells, noting the “influx of 20- and 30-something professionals into our city.”

I think Wells is right about there being a creative-class baby boom coming, and I don’t think the PSU demographic forecast accounts for this. And Wells is also right about where these people are settling: close-in east-side neighborhoods.

Will the coming big facilities push be another land grab for developers, or will the district plan wisely and hold on to “surplus” property to account for future demographic growth?

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Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

filed under: Facilities

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19 Responses

  1. Comment from Neisha:

    Steve, thanks for this post. Although, I don’t think it’s coming. I think it’s here already and we’re starting to see it in the younger grades. And the PSU forecasters looked at birthrates and projections, not populations growth from people moving here.

    IMO, the worst thing that could happen would be to lose land-intensive high school properties, especially in the fast growing outer edges of the district. That’s something we won’t be able to recoup.

    You guys have probably been on the PPS site lately. But, there’s a fast-track process starting yesterday to deal with the space crisis at Rigler and Scott:

  2. Comment from Marian:

    The information about the 8th grade academy is no surprise. I had a conversation with Bev Pruitt, Madison Cluster area director, over 18 months ago and she said that there was plenty of room at Rigler for a K-8 school and that all the parents and PPS staff who claimed otherwise were incorrect.

    It all goes back to the rush to implement all these K-8 changes WITHOUT DUE DILIGENCE!

    We need to tell PPS not to sell off or destroy anymore properties. We are seeing more and more examples of the need for them.

  3. Comment from whitebuffalo:

    In fact there was an increase in the elementary grades this year. This caught everyone off guard it seems. I know it’s anecdotal evidence but just try walking through a store without running into a stroller (or being run into by one)–we seem to be undergoing a boomlet. If you have any doubts bout this just go to IKEA on a saturday night and count the kids and pregnant women. (More interestingly to me was the number of 3 kid families. They say 3 is the “new two”.)

  4. Comment from Neisha:

    Yeah, there was an increase in elementary grades, and the largest increases were in kindergarten and pre-K. This fall should be interesting with the combo of large kindergarten classes and the addition of 8th grade in many schools.

  5. Comment from Zarwen:

    If PPS had simply done the opposite of what the PSU Population Research group recommended every time, we’d be in good shape now.

    Steve, you ask whether there will be another “land grab”? That, too, has already begun. You have seen it yourself: Washington HS has already been sold for condos. Remember that devious “charrette” concerning Jefferson, rebuilding it to make it more attractive for PCC to buy? There is also talk of selling Faubion to Concordia in conjunction with the former Whitaker site. And developers’ proposal to move Lincoln under a bridge so they can get the high-value property it is on now? NAYA’s plan to buy the “Old Whitaker” building? No doubt De La Salle plans to buy Kenton eventually. And the lessees at Terwilliger and Collins View will buy those buildings, too. It’s not a matter of “will it be,” it’s “how do we stop it”?

  6. Comment from Anne T.:

    I know I sound like a weary old veteran, but since my daughter was in kindergarten in 2003, I have been challenging their population growth figures. I am sure there are people out there who were doing it before me.

    It seems to me that the only solution is to stop asking them to do it differently, and figure out a way to do it differently ourselves.

  7. Comment from Neisha:

    Anne, I think that’s what the Hollyrood and Laurelhurst parents did to try to stop or slow down their K-8 conversion. They hired had numbers drawn up to show that enrollment is not declining in their neighborhoods. Unfortunately, the Irvington parents wanted K-8 and they were the other feeder into Fernwood. I recall David Wynde saying at one of those board meetings that he didn’t want the Hollyrood parents to hijack Irvington. Although, Hollyrood and Laurelhurst were able to get a one year delay. Now all four of those buildings are crowded and there’s no way they can close the Hollyrood building without expanding or replacing Fernwood.

  8. Comment from Neisha:

    Sorry about the typos above. And before someone else says it, part of the crowding is that Rose City Park was closed and boundaries were changed so that Hollyrood-Fernwood took an enormous chunk of the Rose City catchment. Laurehurst and Alameda took smaller pieces and Hollyrood-Fernwood and Irvington took pieces of Laurelhurst. Since Hollyrood-Fernwood had the biggest boundary change, the RCP closure doesn’t completely explain the crowding in the younger grades at Laurelhurst, Irvington and Alameda (which all cut down to only sibling transfers last year at the latest). The Laurelhurst catchment area is actually smaller than it was before all the conversions.

  9. Comment from Zarwen:


    I don’t know who your source is on Laurelhurst, but I live over here, and I can tell you that they embraced the K-8 conversion from the beginning. They never tried to stop it; they wanted it. They were head-over-heels thrilled at the idea of never sending a child to Fernwood again–except the folks north of Sandy, who are in the new Fernwood catchment area.

    I also would like to point out the the pieces of “Laurelhurst” that went to Irvington and Fernwood are actually located in the Irvington neighborhood. I never understood why folks who live at 24th and Fremont were zoned for Laurelhurst school–ridiculous.

    It will be interesting to see whether overcrowding persists at Laurelhurst once they stop taking so many transfers. Prior to the reconfiguration, their enrollment had been as high as 33% transfers-in. Most of those kids are still there, now in grades 3 and up. And they are allowed to bring in their younger siblings too. So the previous principal at Laurelhurst is partially, if not mostly, to blame for the overcrowding at Laurelhurst now.

    Enrollment increases in the younger grades? What PSU and the Oregonian don’t want anyone to know is that PDX is experiencing a “baby boomlet.” If folks knew that, they might fight against school closures!

    Although, another possible explanation for these particular schools could be the current economy. Historically, many Laurelhurst families have sent their children to All Saints, and now they have Agia Sophia too; and Irvington and Alameda families have sent their children to the Madeleine School. Maybe that is getting out of reach for more families now, especially considering what big mortgages young families have been taking on within the past five years.

  10. Comment from Neisha:

    Zarwen — it was actually parents who lived in the old Hollyrood catchment who had kids in both schools (Hollyrood 4th and 5th used to go to Laurelhurst).

    As for that weird bit of Laurelhurst that was in Grant Park/Irvington, Erik Sten once told me that, back in the 70s and 80s Laurelhurst was losing kids to All Saints and, in an effort to keep their school from closing, were able to lobby to get a chunk of the Irvington boundary.

  11. Comment from No Surprise:

    “The information about the 8th grade academy is no surprise. I had a conversation with Bev Pruitt, Madison Cluster area director, over 18 months ago and she said that there was plenty of room at Rigler for a K-8 school and that all the parents and PPS staff who claimed otherwise were incorrect.”

    Ms. Pruitt suggestted to RCP families that a cluster wide dance would solve all our issues. A classic example of the “Peter Principle” at work.

    When called to Ms Phillips attention, she simply had the principle pick up the slack.

    It would have been nice to have a resource on staff during this transition.

  12. Comment from Neisha:

    Geez, that’s awful. Someone called for a district wide boundary review (Nancy R, Nicole?). It sounds like that needs to happen soon. I was talking to a Roseway Heights mom the other day and she said there are 18 kids in her child’s first grade class, which sounded pretty great. She knows it’s unsustainable though with all the surrounding schools having classes of around 30.

    Zarwen, one more thing, I live in Beaumont-Wilshire and used to live near Grant Park. So, I don’t know as much re what’s happening in your neck of the Grant Cluster (although I have a coworker with a sixth grader who lives there who is really mourning the loss of a neighborhood middle school). What I can tell you is that Madeleine has kindergarten classes of around 30, just like Alameda and Irvington. What’s happening over here is that people from the Bay Area, New York, Chicago, Boston, etc are moving here in search of housing that’s more affordable than those cities and walkable, urban neighborhoods. They look on GreatSchools for the “highest rated” schools and then get their realtors to find them houses in those neighborhoods. We had a number of people register last year the first week of school. The district’s demographic studies aren’t providing any leeway for this phenomenon — the projections for kindergarten are based on birthrates from five years ago.

  13. Comment from Zarwen:

    That’s EXACTLY why I have never had any confidence in the PSU Population Research Center (which is where the “district’s demographic studies” come from). They use outdated data and have a PERFECT record of being wrong every time!

    BTW, your earlier comment about the Hollyrood people resisting K-8 actually served to illustrate my point. Laurelhurst and Irvington wanted K-8 because they always hated sending their kids to Fernwood, and K-8 gave them a ticket out of there. But the Hollyrood people (anyone living north of Sandy, which is now the Hollyrood-Fernwood area) resisted because it meant giving up Laurelhurst. (What in the world did David mean about them “hijacking Irvington?” I swear, I can never understand a word that guy says.)

    My prediction is that once the top-heavy classes of middle schoolers at Fernwood are gone (after next year, I think), the Hollyrood community may decide that K-8 isn’t so bad. Roseway Hts. is going through the same thing with their student population.

    As far as having a middle school option, the district expects families who want one to apply to Beaumont or Mt. Tabor (which is pretty crowded) through the lottery and then transport their kids over there if they get in.

  14. Comment from AnRyBr:

    Replying to Zarwen’s comment #13 ~ a clarification (and Zarwen, I don’t mean to be combative, but spell out what I’ve seen and heard from the H’rood-F’wood community.)

    1. “Hollyrood people… resisted because it meant giving up Laurelhurst”

    No. This is factually backwards. Those H’rood people who were against K-8 were so because (a) it closed H’rood, and (b) people didn’t want their k-3 children at F’wood, and lastly, (c) Fernwood was a succeeding school (why close a successful middle-school?) (a) was negated by the RCP muck-up, while (b) and (c) remain issues at H’rood-F’wood.

    ~Few H’rood parents liked the L’hurst 4th and 5th grade transition (~imagine sending your child to 3 schools in 4 years? H’rood-3rd grade, L’hurst 4th and 5th, F’wood 6th grade). While L’hurst is a lovely school, H’rood parent involvement dropped entirely, and some people felt like they were entering someone else’s club on a loaner pass for those 2 years. I heard H’rood families speak out FOR K-8 specifically to drop the L’hurst Transition. (Note that no-one speaks ill of L’hurst, it’s a lovely school – but it was never ‘our’ school. And full disclosure, my child was not old enough to go to 4th and 5th at L’hurst, so this is anecdotal.)

    The primary reason for H’rood discontent with VP’s plan was the closure of Hollyrood school ~ (which was academically wonderful even if the facilities-challenged) and the primary reason for F’wood discontent was the closure of a quirkily loved middle-school, and the removal of loved middle-school teachers.

    2. “My prediction is that once the top-heavy classes of middle schoolers at Fernwood are gone.. the Hollyrood community may decide that K-8 isn’t so bad.”

    No, also backwards ( the short-run. Long-run you might be right.) This year we have 238 kids in 6, 7, 8th grades. In two years, we’ll have 140 kids in 6, 7, 8th, (assuming no boundary changes, transfers, etc.) Great for a ‘neighborhood school’ but terrible for electives. How do we continue to provide electives when we have so few upper-grade kids, offset by a large incoming k class? And that’s the odd part ~ looking at PPS numbers ~ we’ll be the largest k-8 in Portland next year, yet we’ll have one of the smallest upper-grade cohort-classes. Economy of scale does not work in our favor here. K-8 may not look bad for the k-5th graders, but if we want Band, Language, Math, Science, etc. for our upper-grade child – well, our Foundation has it’s work cut-out for it. (But I think you are correct in the long-run, when our incoming K reaches 8th grade and we have the numbers in the upper classes to provide enough FTE’s.)

    I personally think K-8 will work ~ but that the next few years will be rocky (and the burden will be borne by our upper-grade children.) I am cautiously optimistic about Sup. Carole Smith and the current board.

  15. Comment from Zarwen:


    Good to see you over here, and no, not combative at all! Glad to get more of the story. You didn’t say so, but I think there are some families located between Sandy and the freeway who would have preferred Laurelhurst and therefore not thrilled about the outcome, but this is not our problem, anyway.

    The issues you describe with electives in a K-8 are universal. Had you been at the meeting last Tuesday, you would certainly have gotten an earful. Michele and I have talked about gift-wrapping a pair of hip boots and a shovel for Supt. Smith–she needs them to clean up the mess she has inherited.

  16. Comment from Zarwen:


    I should add that, at that same meeting, the speaker from Hollyrood-Fernwood mentioned that the 2nd-graders will be moving over to the Fernwood building next year, and that the shop room would be remodelled to accommodate them. I remember that you and I have corresponded privately about this, but may I ask you to explain it here, for the rest of the world? Who is responsible for this piece of craziness, and why?

  17. Comment from Neisha:

    Zarwen — my coworker with the 6th grader who lives in the current Laurelhurst catchment looked at Beaumont and Mt Tabor, but they both still feel like someone else’s neighborhood school. His kid is now at DaVinci, which is a fine school, but they wanted a neighborhood school, not an arts magnet. They are trying to decide between staying at DaVinci or going back to Laurelhurst, where there are few electives and where he’ll always be in the class that they are just adding (Laurelhurst is a year behind Irvington and Sabin and just added 6th grade this year).

  18. Comment from AnRyBr:

    A reply to comment 16:
    “[T]he 2nd-graders will be moving over to the Fernwood building next year, and the shop room remodeled to accommodate them. …Who is responsible for this piece of craziness, and why?”

    Oh, Zarwen, think back at those crazy, carefree days of 2000! Was it the beauty of the full moon over the Willamette, or the tastiness of Widmer’s newest beer, or kink radio’s relentless 24/7 playing of Sting’s “Fields of Gold” ? ~ whatever it was, while Portland Center for Population didn’t feel the romantic groove of 2000, us soon-to-be-parents certainly did…

    So straight demographics. We’ve been having too many babies!

    H’wood-F’wood, with new boundaries and booming birthrate is looking at 3 classrooms per grade, and H’wood simply doesn’t have enough rooms to house them all. PPS options (my guesswork only) were to (a) install a portable at H’rood, (b) split the 2nd grades between our two buildings, (c) remove the library at H’rood (and use the space as a classroom) or (d) carve out space at Fernwood. (What PPS wanted to do 2 years ago – close H’rood entirely – was not doable because of our increased numbers. Fernwood can’t hold 600 kids.)

    PPS went for (d), and given the restrictions (zero to low-cost, keep community together and a library at H’rood) I think it’s an good solution. Our 2nd graders will now have access to a gym, a cafeteria, utility rooms ~ all good things. And while we will be losing a Shop room at Fernwood, we don’t have a Shop teacher, so the room isn’t being used. (And what viability does Shop hold in a K-8 school?)

    But there is a cost to this – Hollyrood, which has been K-3 for close to 50 years, will soon be a K-1 ~ the school ‘feel’ will change with the loss of those vibrant 2nd and 3rd graders, and it will evolve into something close to what VP wanted – H’rood as an early childhood development center.

  19. Comment from Zarwen:

    Yes, Andrew, I do remember those days, but for me, they happened in 1999! (Does that make me an “early achiever”?)

    So, the responsibility for the “craziness” is really on the morons who closed RCP and made Hollyrood-Fernwood a K-8 with a larger catchment area than it is realistically able to accommodate. And we all know who THOSE people are.

    Given the overcrowding at almost every school that is anywhere near RCP (Alameda, Hollyrood-Fernwood, Laurelhurst, Rigler, Scott), it would appear that the only logical thing for PPS to do is reopen RCP. I am guessing that is why it won’t happen.

    Thanks for enlightening everyone, Andrew.