Toward Equality in our Schools: New Postage Stamp

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NSA founding member and PPS Equity contributor Anne Trudeau sends along a note that she saw this stamp at the post office the other day.

The stamp commemorates the 60th anniversary of the landmark 1947 Mendez v. Westminister School District federal court decision, which held that Orange County schools could not segregate Mexican and Mexican American students into special “Mexican” schools.

Earl Warren, then governor of California, signed a law later that year that eliminated segregation of Asian school children in California schools, then went on to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and write the unanimous Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954.

The US Postal service issued the stamp in September of 2007.

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

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Open Letter to the School Board re. Ivy Charter

I am writing to urge you — once again — to reject the Ivy Charter application. The adverse impact of charter schools in North and Northeast Portland is clear if you simply look at the numbers.

For example, in the 69% non-white, 58.3% free and reduced lunch Jefferson cluster, we have two recently opened charter schools. Portland Village is 77.42% white and 9.7% free and reduced; Trillium is 64.97% white and 29.3% free and reduced. Aggravation of racial and socio-economic segregation is a clear case of adverse impact, and there is no reason to think Ivy would be any different.

Cliff Brush is right: We are at a tipping point. But it’s not just about charter schools. It is about a system that for decades has punished Portland children based on where they live and the color of their skin.

We’ve got to stop making policy decisions that set back the clock on equal opportunity.

The Jefferson cluster doesn’t need another charter school. It needs equitable, comprehensive educational programming.

After the mayor’s week at Jefferson, when students spoke eloquently and forcefully about being denied educational opportunities afforded their cross-town counterparts, and after a Celebrate event, where parents were told not to even bother applying for transfers into our most favored schools because there is no space available, it is time to look forward to a school system that no longer divides our citizens into haves and have nots.

It is time to define a uniform core curriculum, including art, music and P.E., offered at every neighborhood school. It is time to stop feeding into the self-reinforcing cycle of “failing” schools in our poorest neighborhoods by skimming enrollment, slashing programs, and closing buildings.

Now, in 2008, it is time for you as a policy maker to consider, with every policy decision, whether we are moving toward the future of a more equitable system, or whether we are looking backwards and perpetuating the segregated, balkanized system that is no longer tolerable in an enlightened city like Portland.

It is time to unequivocally move away from the shame that a two-tiered education system brings to our great city.

I know there is concern that you as a board member must follow state law. But as I mentioned above, adverse impact of charter schools is clear. Even if it weren’t, I would challenge you to be bold, and act in the interest of the least fortunate among us who do not have a voice is such matters.

As I said when I wrote to you on this issue before, let the state approve this application on appeal if they will. At least it won’t be on your conscience.

We are standing at the threshold of a proud new era in Portland Public Schools, one in which every neighborhood school is strong and comprehensive, and where no children are denied opportunity, no matter the color of their skin, the address on their door, or the wealth of their parents.

It is undeniable that we have momentum, and that this change is coming. This single vote, while merely for one small charter school, is symbolic of a sea change in the way we think about our school district and our city.

Before casting your vote, you must ask yourself: Which side are you on? Are you on the side of progress, integration and equity for all our children? Or are you on the other side?

You don’t have to answer me. History will be the judge.

Faithfully yours,
Steve Rawley

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

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Action Alert: Ivy School Vote Down to the Wire

The Ivy Charter appeal is on the agenda for this Monday, February 11. As expected, the board’s vote on this will be split. Superintendent Carole Smith is expected to recommend approval. Trudy Sargent and Bobbie Regan have already voted “yes” in committee, and Sonja Henning is expected to vote “yes” when the full board votes. Ruth Adkins, the lone “no” vote in committee, as well as Dilafruz Williams and David Wynde, are expected to vote “no.”

The crux of the matter appears to be “adverse impact.” State law says a school board may reject a charter application if “the value of the public charter school is outweighed by any directly identifiable, significant and adverse impact on the quality of the public education of students residing in the school district in which the public charter school will be located.”

The demographics of two recently approved charter schools provide a guide to the way these schools skim the whitest, wealthiest families from our neighborhood schools. In the 69% non-white, 58.3% free and reduced lunch Jefferson cluster, Portland Village Charter is 77.42% white and 9.7% free and reduced, and Trillium Charter is 64.97% white and 29.3% free and reduced.

These numbers represent a clear adverse impact, to the extent that they show aggravation of racial and socio-economic segregation.

We need neighborhood schools supporters to write e-mails today and speak at the board this Monday. Please see the Action page for board member e-mail addresses and information on giving testimony to the board. It would be especially helpful for citizens in the area directly impacted by this school would speak.

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

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Custodians and Food Service Workers Reach Agreement

SEIU Local 503 appears to have reached a tentative agreement with Portland Public Schools that would preserve custodians’ wages and give food service workers a modest cost of living increase. It also appears that the district will be contributing more toward health benefits.

The union’s happy, the district’s happy, but one question remains: If everybody’s so happy, why did the district play hardball for nine months, insisting on draconian cuts up until the very last mediation session? Couldn’t we have settled right away and used that $55,973.87 we spent on the union busting law firm Barran Liebman in the classroom instead?

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

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20 Questions: Key Research Needed Before the Facilities Bond

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?

Equity

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?

Numbers

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?

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

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Action Alert: Ivy School

The Ivy Charter school has appealed their application, and the charter schools subcommittee has voted 2-to-1 to recommend ther approval. Board member Ruth Adkins was the lone no vote; Bobbie Regan and Trudy Sargent voted yes. This may be referred to the full board as soon as the February 11 meeting. Please write to the school board and superintendent right away to urge them to (once again) reject this application. Besides being too close to existing Northeast Portland neighborhood schools that are struggling with enrollment, it appears to be an attempt to convert an existing private school (which is illegal under Oregon law).

Here’s the letter I sent the board when they first considered this charter application, and the school board and superintendent’s e-mail addresses can be found here.

Swing votes on this appear to be Dan Ryan and Sonja Henning. The superintendent’s recommendation may carry weight with them, so please remember to write to her as well.

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

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Questions for the Candidates

I am planning to submit questionnaires to mayoral and city council candidates to see where they stand on the issues we all care about. I would love some input from the community on these. Here are a couple sample questions I came up with.

  • City Auditor Gary Blackmer and Multnomah County Auditor Suzanne Flynn released a joint audit report in June of 2006 which found that Portland Public Schools’ transfer policy contributes to racial and socio-economic segregation and conflicts with other district goals such as strong neighborhood schools and investing in poorly performing schools. The report requested that the school board clarify the of the purpose of the transfer policy, but nearly two years later, they have not. As mayor or commissioner, will you do anything to hold the school district accountable to this audit?
  • Portland Public Schools’ student transfer policy divests over $40 million annually from our poorest neighborhoods, leaving our most economically vulnerable citizens with gutted educational programs and a disproportionate number of school closures. This puts PPS policy at odds with city policy of strong, livable neighborhoods, with affordable housing near strong schools. As mayor or commissioner, how will you work with the PPS Board of Education to ensure their policies do not work at cross purposes with city policies?

And here’s one just for Sho Dozono:

  • You started the Portland Schools Foundation to support schools, particularly those in lower-income areas, in the wake of Measure 5. Now, more than ten years later, the foundation is frequently criticized as part of the problem, not part of the solution. Is the foundation still relevant today, or should the district administer the equity fund in-house?

What else?

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

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Common Sense in Facilities Planning

Udate: I fixed the link to the flier. Sorry to anybody who tried to download it earlier!

Also braving the cold wind and rain at the Last Celebration was Neighborhood Schools Alliance member Steve Linder, who distributed his flier (644KB PDF) which details the common-sense criteria for good neighborhood schools:

  • Schools to which more children can walk or bike
  • Schools designed to fit growing neighborhoods, with room for art, music, computers and PE
  • Well sited schools, adjacent to parks, with playfields meeting Oregon’s State School Acreage Standards

Ironically, many of the schools closed in recent years have met these criteria, with their students shuffled off across major arterials to inadequate facilities.

The free-market fetish at PPS has left major swaths of Portland, such as the Kenton area, without an elementary school. And, amazingly, they are often the areas expected to gain school-aged population over the coming years.

It’s time to rethink our facilities planning. Linder’s document is a good starting point. Everybody at Portland Public Schools who has anything to do with facilities planning should read it, as should all concerned community members.

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

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The Last “Celebration”

I attended the last Portland Public Schools “Celebrate!” event yesterday, and handed out leaflets (109KB PDF) drawing attention to the inequities that follow the open transfer policy. Fellow Neighborhood Schools Alliance member Terry Olson braved the absolutely miserable weather with me, and we handed out 500 fliers in the first two hours of the event.

If you think it’s a little odd for a school district to set up a shopping mall for their schools, you’re not alone. Several families I spoke with were virtually speechless. What’s even more appalling, once you scratch the surface, is that this showcase event exposes the startling inequities between our neighborhood schools. I spoke with parent Peter Campbell, who’s been trying to get the district to publish curriculum offerings for all elementary schools, to no avail. Even at an event like this, he discovered that it is virtually impossible to get accurate, consistent data.

This inconsistency is incredibly frustrating, and it is one of the ways PPS is shifting the true cost of its open transfer policy onto families. If the district really wanted to do this right, the real costs would include a standardized format for schools to publish their offerings, and full-time marketing staff at each school, so that administrative staff could focus on running their schools and educating our children. The real cost of doing this would be prohibitive, of course, and nobody wants to spend precious FTE budget on marketing. Yet without it, parents are not able to make informed choices.

Of course, it would be far less expensive — not to mention far more fair — to have a uniform core curriculum, including music, art and P.E., in all our schools.

I’m glad this is the last “Celebration” PPS will spend money on. The Oregonian reports that these events have typically cost $300,000 to put on. That’s easily enough to pay for the three FTE positions I’ve advocated to restore the music department in the Jefferson cluster.

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

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What a Day!

It’s been about 24 hours since I launched this site, and I’ve got to say I’m a little overwhelmed by the response. I wasn’t sure how people would take to the forum, but already ten new users have registered, and a handful of discussions have begun.

The blog has received comments from people I have not heard from before, and technically (knock on wood) things are hanging together and seem to be working. Be sure to let me know if you find something that doesn’t work. I’m pretty handy with the blog software by now, but the forum software is totally new to me.

I can’t help but feel optimistic that we’re building the kind of energy that is just unstoppable. When reasonable people really look at things the way they are, it is difficult to disagree that it is intolerable. Let’s keep pushing and building. We may soon have the critical mass necessary to push beyond the tipping point. We may even have that critical mass now.

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

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