Carole Smith’s First Budget: Where’s the Equity?

6:48 pm

I’m trying to see Carole Smith’s first budget in the best possible light. I know we don’t have the kind of funding needed to do things right. I also understand Smith’s desire to stabilize things. With those things considered, it’s nice to see a budget that doesn’t have any obvious cuts, and that actually adds some staffing to reduce kindergarten class sizes and restore some curriculum that was lost with the cuts of the ’90s and the switch to K-8.

But if you refer back to the superintendent’s presentation to the school board February 11 (296 KB PDF), a couple of salient points stand out. First, we’re apparently going to “examine everything through the lens of race and equity” from here on out.

Second, Smith quotes New Age business guru Meg Wheatley on integrity: “If we say one thing but do another, we create dissonance in the very space of the organization…What we lose when we fail to create consistent messages, when we fail to ‘walk our talk’ is not just personal integrity…we lose the partnership…that can help bring form and order to the organization.”

My thought at the time was that she is setting the bar very high for herself. Either people concerned with equitable distribution of public investment are going to be incredibly pleased, or they’re being set up for incredible disappointment.

So let’s examine her budget proposal through the lens of equity.

Two things jump right out at me.

  1. We are going full steam ahead on K-8 conversions, without clarifying the purpose of this conversion, and while maintaining middle school options in some clusters and not in others. This means that we are going further down an inequitable path. The fact that the budget will pay for algebra and library books at K-8s does not make up for the fact these schools will continue to have a vastly reduced middle school curriculum compared to traditional middle schools.
  2. The additional funding for “enrichment” in K-8 schools, while mandating three units a week a week of art, dance, theater, world language, music, or PE, continues to leave us with a confusing patchwork of offerings, and perpetuates the existing inequities. Schools that have little or no enrichment will get some, but schools that already have it will get more.

Requiring a prescribed amount of “enrichment,” chosen from a cafeteria of options by site administrators, perpetuates a system that effectively hides inequity.

We need a core pre-K-12 curriculum in art, music and PE across the board, not at the discretion of site administrators. And no school should have more “enrichment” than another.

We also need a comprehensive middle school option in every cluster, not just the wealthy ones.

Was this proposed budget reviewed through the lens of equity? If so, I’m not seeing it.

It is a fact that students affected by poverty need more investment, not less. Where in this budget are we investing in our poorest neighborhood schools? Why isn’t the extra “enrichment” money distributed in proportion to need rather than across the board? Why aren’t we guaranteeing free pre-K and full-day K to our poorest schools instead of maintaining the current patchwork? Will the budget include restoration of the music department at Jefferson High School, a putative arts magnet? Why aren’t we reopening Rose City Park instead of putting Madison cluster eighth graders at Madison High?

I’ve got a lot more questions; these are just the start.

I understand the budget process has just begun, and I’d like to be optimistic about our chances of moving toward equity. But I’m not seeing it in the first cut.

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

filed under: Equity, K-8 Transistion

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40 Responses

  1. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Excellent comments, Steve. Sounds like more of the same. Geez, why am I not surprised?

  2. Comment from pdxpaul:

    stop your and whinning

  3. Comment from NMLeggett:

    If you want real equity you have to force the Schools Foundation to change it’s ways. Most the extras come from them. They must allow the 1/3 paid back to 1. Buy FTE 2. The SF must seek out the most needy schools. Not have them jump through hoops. 3. Stop granting money back to the fundraising schools that paid into the account in the first place. That organization must be held accountable!
    As for Kindergarten Title 1 funds do make up the differance for high poverty schools to offer full day Kindergarten. And if a pay for full day site has the the minimum number of, I think it 10-15, paying students per class others can attend without the fee. Not perfect but it does work some.
    Yes we have a long way to go to get the funding to ensure equity across the board. The remaining middle schools are the perfect size to offer everything. The K-8 are left with holes.
    I sincerely hope everyone who cares is taking further step to communicate these desires to those able to effect change.
    Thank you all,
    Nicole Leggett

  4. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    I don’t think most extras come from the foundation. Their budget is very small compared to PPS. The number of FTE positions hired by parent fund raising (and subsequently PSF grants) is quite small compared to directly-funded teachers.

    Yes, PSF needs to be reformed, but the largest inequities come in the PPS budget.

    Free pre-K and full-day K availability is uneven, to put it charitably. They are unavailable in some high-poverty schools, while available in some wealthier neighborhoods.

    Having these available has a profound impact on capture rates in K-8, especially in high-poverty neighborhoods. If equity were truly the top priority, we would make sure that all low-income schools had free pre-k and full-day kindergarten (for starters).

  5. Comment from NMLeggett:

    What am I missing? I’m looking at the new budget. All of the high poverty schools are getting Title 1 Dollor allocated for pre-K/K program support for $40,000 : $80,000 : or about $150,000 if they have Pre-K. It seems Kindergarten class size and F/R lunch % factor in to how much they recieved. Perhaps site based decisions factor in to availablity on free full day. I don’t think it’s required to use Title 1 funds for FTE, but you can. Are you proposing the district mandate using funds for full day kindergarten. Is that the inequity you are refering too?
    Thank you,
    Nicole Leggett

  6. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    It’s the site discretion that I’m talking about.

    You’ve examined the budget in more detail than I have, so I’ll trust your analysis.

    But right now, today, we have a very confusing patchwork of K-5, preK-5, K-8, preK-8, etc., with a potpourri of offerings. Since there is no standard required curriculum in “enrichment” (I hate that term), this hides inequity and makes it very frustrating to navigate what remains of “school choice.”

    I don’t see that the budget addresses this in a meaningful way. If it does, I will be very happy to hear about it!

  7. Comment from ConcernedParent:

    One thing about Portland, for all its faults, is that it does capture a lot of kids within the city. PPS is wonderful compared to what’s available in most parts of the country, where anyone with a middle class income wouldn’t dream of using the public schools. I know it’s not perfect, but don’t expect the schools to solve all problems. The kids are with them for 6 hours some days a year. What happens in the rest of the time matters too.

  8. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Concerned Parent, we school teachers thank you. You are right about the capture rate for middle class kids. Portland does fine, even though Oregon’s educational resources and options for more are not the best.

    The complaint that I hear on this blog which I think is very valid is the rotten education we are providing for kids in lower economic neighborhoods. And it is the failure to address the problems directly which frustrates people like myself. And there is a belief that the upper middle class movers and shakers make it much harder for this to happen than is necessary. I think this is valid also.

  9. Comment from NMLeggett:

    Meaningful mmm not sure, better yes. Each schools budget will not be approved if they don’t offer at least three periods about 1.5 hours a week of “enrichment.”
    Nicole Leggett

  10. Comment from marcia:

    “….1.5 hours a week of “enrichment.” Question: is this required for just the 6,7,8 grades in K-8? Or does it include all grades? And are FTE being added? or are schools supposed to use their “no cost solutions” and make cuts in the classrooms to accomodate the electives?

  11. Comment from David W:

    Superintendent’s budget proposal requires at least three periods each week of “enrichment” for all grades K-8. FTE are being added. Budget as proposed includes $1.35 million more than current year in the staffing formula for schools.

  12. Comment from Steve Buel:

    David, nice going. A good first step.

  13. Comment from David W:

    Steve. You ask: “Where in this budget are we investing in our poorest neighborhood schools?”

    Here’s one way that is directly allocating more staff to schools serving higher numbers of kids in poverty.

    Leaving aside Title I funding, which is by definition targeted to our poorest schools, and amounts to almost $13 million in direct funding to higher poverty schools in the proposed budget: each year for the past 3 years since we changed the staffing formula for schools 5% of the school staffing under the allocation formula has been allocated according to a “SES factor”.

    In the proposed budget this is 93 FTE. To illustrate the impact of this …

    James John has forecast ADM (the number of students used in the calculations) of 371. Kelly has 390. Bridlemile has 386, Laurelhurst 538.

    The FTE are allocated according to number of students on free and reduced lunch, the proxy we use for poverty.

    James John (81% FRL) gets 1.59, Kelly (77% FRL) 1.64, Bridelmile (13% FRL) 0.27, Laurelhurst (13% FRL) 0.34.

    As the Laurelhurst number shows, the number of kids on FRL is much more important in this allocation than the overall number of students.

  14. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    So is the SES formula increased this year, or is it the same as last year’s? If it’s the same, it’s difficult to argue this year’s budget is moving us toward equity, unless you want to argue that the existing system is equitable.

    I appreciate the intent of SES funding as an acknowledgment that children affected by poverty are more expensive to educate.

    But this does not begin to address the effects of the student transfer policy which has left schools like Jefferson with a bare-bones curriculum.

    A truly equitable budget would stop shifting the cost of our student transfer policy to the students who don’t transfer in the form of reduced opportunity. Instead, it would recognize the true cost, and would start down a path of offering students equitable educational opportunities in every neighborhood.

    It’s not enough to say “we’re already spending vastly more per student at Jefferson as we are at Grant.” Students at Jefferson are getting vastly less for that money. This is the cost of our transfer policy, and we need to start paying it in full if we’re going to keep it.

    Anyway, back to the current budget.

    I appreciate adding FTE. But since it is across the board, it simply reinforces existing inequity. Like I said, schools that had no “enrichment” get some, and those that already have it get more (or smaller classes).

    When you factor in the push to finish the conversion to K-8, which is demonstrably inequitable to the extent that it is preserving middle schools in wealthy clusters and eliminating them in in poorer clusters, it is hard to argue that this budget moves us toward equity.

  15. Comment from Steve Buel:

    David, it seems the school board is beginning to get the equity issue. It is a tough one. One of the things that I don’t believe has been looked at carefully is that it costs very, very little to add electives to middle schools. There is no teacher cost — the cost is in some increased supples etc. I have never heard this alluded to by either the administration or school board.

    Secondly, one of the things we don’t talk enough about on this blog is that equity also entails such things as creating a school climate in poorer schools which rivals those in our more affluent schools. A 34% suspension rate at George and a 2% suspension rate at Sylvan M.S. dramatically demonstrates the extreme differences in classroom behavior that can be seen in our schools between the haves and the have lesses. Which school would a parent want their child to attend, one with 10 kids in every class of 30 who have misbehaved so badly that they have been suspended from school or one where there is one or no children in every class who have been suspended from school? I can tell you as a 40+ year school teacher there is an incredible disparity there when it comes to receiving a good education. Yet, this type of inequity goes almost entirely unaddressed.
    The sad part is there are many things that could be done to address this, not all of which cost a small fortune.

    Another type of inequity which could be fairly easily improved is the inequities in the teacher transfer cand hiring practices. I know Stand for Children is bringing forth a proposal but it doesn’t address the inequities. Yet, we all know that quality teachers is the basic beginning point in creating an excellent education. Yet we stand by idly and watch many of our best teachers migrate out of the poorest communities into the wealthiest when some very inexpensive changes in the way we hire would hugely offset the present inequity.

    I am in the telephone book if you would ever wish to sit down with me and discuss some ways these inequities could be addressed.

    Keep up the movement.

  16. Comment from Zarwen:

    Steve B.,

    I believe that the difference in suspension rate reflects more on differences in income than in actual behavior. PPS is famous for giving preferential treatment to the children of the wealthy. Have you forgotten about Tom Curtis at Grant HS 10 years ago or so? He went to jail for armed robbery. The part of the story that didn’t make the papers is all the antics he pulled at Grant that would have gotten other kids suspended or expelled. But every time he got in trouble, his lawyer dad went over to the school and threatened to sue if they suspended him. So he kept getting away with what amounted to criminal activity at school. It didn’t catch up with him until he started doing it away from school.

    My own son learned a harsh lesson about this just recently–in 2nd grade. He and two other boys were caught fooling around in the bathroom (nothing criminal–just being silly). Two of the boys, including my son, got lunch detention, but the third did not. Wanna guess why?

  17. Comment from Nancy:

    If any K-8 child attending a PPS neighborhood school is offered more than three periods of enrichment per week in 2008-2009 (regardless of the school’s configuration) the district has not begun to correct the inequities.

    And even if all schools were offered exactly three periods a week, what constitutes a period? Is the school utilizing a semester or trimester schedule? 48 minutes each day, 60 minutes each day, 1.5 hours a couple times a week?

    Since K-8 schedules are not uniform throughout the district, equity in total minutes of “seat time” for enrichments must be ensured, regardless of the school’s choice of schedule.

  18. Comment from David W:


    Each school has some discretion on how to use its allocation of FTE. Three periods of “enrichment” will be mandated. After allowing for the needed number of classroom teachers in each grade, then principals make choices about how to use any remaining FTE. Two schools with identical demographics could make different choices: one school could choose to have a reading coach and another to have an art teacher. The resulting disparity in “enrichment” is not a result of district level inequity, it’s a program choice made at the school level.

    I’m not saying that we don’t have any inequity; just that its not always a result of district-level decisions.

  19. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Of course the same can be said about how the student transfer policy shifts funding from poor neighborhoods to wealthy ones — it isn’t a “district-level decision” to rob from the poor and give to the rich, it’s the families who choose to transfer who are doing this.

    At some point, policy makers have to take responsibility for the blatant inequities in our system.

    If we have policies that result in inequity, regardless of their intent, we have to admit that these policies are inequitable.

    Where does the buck stop? Who is responsible if not the policy makers?

  20. Comment from marcia:

    Nancy, I had the same questions of what counts as three periods a week. I also have to say, as we contemplate the addition of 8th grade, our newly emerging K-8 will face cutting art (1/2 teacher this year) P.E. (first time we have had P.E. in years) or just hire one 8th grade teacher….So much for that well-rounded program. Oh, yes, we will finally have a counselor..which will come out of our alloted FTE. Still, no librarian, music, etc..and no real technology to speak of.

  21. Comment from Nancy S.:

    Enrichment should encompass Fine- and Applied-Arts electives.

    A reading coach as enrichment???

  22. Comment from marcia:

    “have a reading coach and another to have an art teacher.” Yes, this sent red flags up in my brain also.
    Unfortunately, I think that is how it works…

  23. Comment from David W:


    I was not saying that a reading coach would count as enrichment. It does not. I was trying to illustrate that the disparity in the amount of enrichment between schools can be the result of choices made at the school about how to use FTE. If two schools each have 3 FTE left over after allocating classroom teachers and one chooses to have art, music and PE; and another to have PE, a reading coach, and a librarian the the resulting disparity in enrichment is a function of school level choices.

  24. Comment from marcia:

    The disparity also might be that one school needs a reading coach because of the population it serves…Say, for example, a North Portland school. Should they then not be allowed to have music, art, P.E. etc…?

  25. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    All schools get three periods a week of music, art, PE, etc. Reading coaches don’t count towards this requirement.

    The inequity is that some schools already have three or more periods of this “enrichment,” and they’ll be getting more FTE to use as they please, e.g. for reading coaches, smaller classes, even more enrichment, etc.

  26. Comment from Zarwen:


    Passing the buck onto the “schools” (don’t you really mean “principals”?) is making you look lame. It was a district policy that put this decision-making into the hands of principals in the mid-90’s; why can’t there be a “new” district policy (or a resurrection of the old one!)that moves it higher up, where it used to be?

  27. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Gotta say I agree that a reading coach is not enrichment. Equity is when the needs of students are equally met, not when the enrichment is equally distributed. Art, music and P.E. are needs of all students regardless of their socio-economic situation. Extra help for reading is more akin to AP classes in that it directly addresses aaspecific academic need. Hence, students who are ready for advanced classes and students who are struggling and need extra help both have need for academic extras, but that is not enrichment. Hence, equity in enrichment is pretty much actually having the same availablility of enrichment classes, while equity in academics is having access to specific academic needs. (Redundancy given for emphasis.)

    A system that equates enrichment with academic needs is in and of itself bound to produce socio-economic inequity. Pretty much can’t help it.

  28. Comment from marcia:

    What it amounts to at our school is a barebones K-8, which will not ever change. Which leads to parents leaving to go to magnet schools and charter schools.

  29. Comment from SusanZP:

    I disagree strongly that FTE decisions should be taken away from school principals. It’s not the principals that are creating inequity by trying to make the most sense with the FTE they are allotted. I shudder to think what the effect would be to the Madison cluster K-8s if that kind of decision was moved “up” to our area director.

    There is a disconnect between the school board/superintendent and the school principals/site councils/teachers that needs to be fixed, and which will not happen if even less control is given to individual schools. If principals/site councils had been involved in the K-8 reconfiguration from the beginning, many of the problems the district is scrambling to fix would have been dealt with two years ago. Rigler and Scott principals argued from the beginning that their buildings did not have room for a K-8 model. No one with any decision-making power was listening. Surely, it’s not going to be a satisfying evening when the board has to vote to send next year’s 8th grade class to Madison. It will also be hard for the Rigler and Scott communities to “market” their schools to potential incoming students.

    As a parent who attended just about every school and community meeting offered by the district to inform me and gather my input, I am a constantly frustrated when our area director and PPS staff state that they are only implementing board policy and then to hear members of the board explain that they rely on PPS staff for updates on the current K-8 reconfigurations.

  30. Comment from marcia:

    And not to forget that the Board was only given 2 weeks to consider the K-8 reconfiguration before voting it in. The answer should have been “let’s not be hasty..” but too late now.

  31. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    It’s never too late to reconsider policy, especially policy that’s causing so many problems and doesn’t have an identifiable problem that it is solving.

  32. Comment from Zarwen:


    FYI, the “higher up” that I referred to was higher than Area Directors. 15 years ago, there was uniformity of “enrichment” offered, at least at the elementary level. That was district policy, not building or cluster policy.

  33. Comment from SusanZP:

    Fifteen years ago PPS had stable funding. I doubt there is one board member who would vote against fully-funded FTE for PE, art, music, language, media specialist, technology, world languages and advanced science and math at each and every school, plus enough FTE to keep classroom size below 30 at the K-5 level. The “higher-ups” don’t seem to be making stellar decisions for the schools and clusters struggling through the K-8 reconfiguration.

  34. Comment from Zarwen:

    All school districts in Oregon have been hit by changes in funding since Measure 5. Yet we don’t hear about gross inequities between schools in other large districts like Beaverton, Gresham or Salem. This is because they have district policies, not site-based policies, governing the offerings at each school.

  35. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    The changes in funding have affected districts differently. Since funding is now from the general fund (rather than tied to local tax revenue), funding per student is the same, whether in Lebanon or Portland.

    Obviously, we all know urban schools deal disproportionately with issues of poverty, etc., and have hence suffered more.

    That’s not to excuse the mess policy makers have made of PPS. But Portland has been hurt more than the rest of the state by Measure 5.

  36. Comment from Nancy:

    Yes, Portland was hurt severely, as was Beaverton, by Measure 5.

    I agree with Zarwen that what is keeping Portland in this horrendous situation is in large part due to site-based rather than district policies determining educational opportunities for students, and of course the transfer policy – among other things.

    Beaverton has rebounded faster because they don’t have these self-defeating policies, there is no need to flee the district because your child must attend a “have not” neighborhood school or because you weren’t lucky enough to win the lottery to get your child into a decent neighborhood school.

    Equity is the foundation upon which all Beaverton district policies revolve.

    It is simply inexcusable that there are “have” and “have not” neighborhood schools in PPS.

  37. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Trust me, I’m not trying to diminish policy leadership’s effects on the instability and inequity in Portland.

    But Beaverton has had the benefit of growing enrollment, which has diminished some of the negative effects of Measure 5. With all high schools over 2000 students, and many elementary schools with over 500 (and at least one over 1000), there’s not much threat of school closures or cutting programs due to low enrollment.

    In Portland, even without the open transfer policy, we’d have only about 1000-1200 students per high school. Yes, it would be better if students went to school in their neighborhoods, and we got to that level at schools like Jefferson. But it would still be more expensive in Portland than Beaverton to provide the same programming.

    To understand why the state legislature (fully in Democratic control) and two Democratic governors haven’t done anything to change school funding, you have to understand that rural districts have done quite well.

    It’s the urban districts, and any district that is losing students, that have been hardest hit.

  38. Comment from SusanZP:


    I still don’t get it. Removing principals from the decision-making process is not going to create equity. So, I do agree that David W’s statement “The resulting disparity in ‘enrichment’ is not a result of district level inequity, it’s a program choice made at the school level” is lame.

  39. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Here’s my take: Every child needs P.E. and music education. Like reading and math, this should be required at every school, and there should be some centrally coordinated curriculum guidance.

    Would we tolerate letting principals decide whether or not to offer reading at their school?

    I don’t have a problem letting principals and teachers determine the details of curriculum and delivery.

    But whether or not all children have access to core curriculum should be non-negotiable.

  40. Comment from NMLeggett:

    Did you know that the state funds children in poverty or foster care as 1.25 students. Did you also notice that the district funds less then half that back in SEF FTE to the school the child attends? Mmmmhhhhh
    Nicole Leggett