Want equity? Elect three new school board members!

4:10 pm

The school board is the crucial leadership body for effecting real change in the way the Portland Public Schools District does business. Therefore it’s urgent that school equity activists start now in seeking out and campaigning for three new board members who will represent the interests of the vast majority of parents and district stakeholders who believe that a public school district should offer equal educational opportunities to all students regardless of family background and economic status.

As Steve Rawley pointed out in a recent post, “In other words, despite the demonstrable harm [district leaders] are doing to at least half the students of Portland, the perceived risk to their constituency outweighs the clear benefit to the greater common good.” They refuse, he says, to even talk about it.

Community members can’t change district leadership, but they do have a say in electing the representatives who can — the Portland Public Schools Board of Education. The school board chooses the district superintendent, it develops district policies, and it ratifies — or rejects — policies proposed by the district administration. It also can be a powerful bully pulpit for change. In other words, the real power lies with the men and women who are chosen to represent the interests of the broader community.

I say it’s time for a change.

As most of you know, the board this summer will pick a replacement for departing board member Dan Ryan. PPS Equity has urged the board to replace Ryan with either Jefferson activist and teacher Nancy Smith or with former board member and teacher Steve Buel. In addition the terms of Trudy Sargent and Sonja Henning are up in the spring. I’ve argued that both should be replaced with candidates willing to confront the district policies that have led to a two-tiered school system of schools with resources and those without.

We in the activist community need to start now. I speak from experience. I ran for the board in 2003, but didn’t make my decision until the February before the May election. Despite the late start, I still managed to finish second in a field of eight to Doug Morgan. If had to do it over again, I would have started much earlier.

So here’s my challenge. First we need to make every effort to see that the board appoints either Nancy or Steve B. to the board this summer. Then we need to find and recruit at least two good candidates from the Madison cluster and the Marshall and Franklin clusters, respectively. As I wrote in a comment to Steve Rawley’s post, I know that the Madison area is a hotbed of district discontent. Surely some good “equity” candidates are available to fill that seat.

I know less about Zone 6, the seat held by Trudy Sargent. But that’s where you come in. Send your ideas, meaning the names of potential candidates, to this site.

Let’s see if we can get something going, maybe start a mini-uprising for equity and democracy. Let’s take back the school board!

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Terry Olson passed away in October, 2009. He was a retired teacher and a neighborhood schools activist. His blog, OlsonOnline, was a seminal space for the discussion of educational equity in Portland.

filed under: Elections, Equity, School Board

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28 Responses

  1. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Lisa Richardson is running for zone 6.

  2. Comment from Zarwen:

    If she wants to be taken seriously, she better do something to raise her profile PDQ. As I understand it, she doesn’t actually live here, although she is legally a resident of Portland.

    People who win school board elections generally start “running” as much as a year ahead of time. Believe it or not, it is now less than a year until the next school board election. Who is running out there? Declare yourselves now!

  3. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Well, now, Zarwen. I am running for Zone 4. But, the real question is who is being supported by Stand for Children. They have been able to pick the board for several years now. Why should we believe it to be any different this time? Who has $100,000 to spend which is what it would take to beat them. If three candidates pooled their resources then it would still take $100,000 or about $30,000 each and this would just get you a decent shot. It in no way guarantees you win. Stand just might up the equation. So don’t be so hard on Lisa. Look at the results of this post. Two comments. Not exactly a hotbed of political activity. I am still deciding what type of a campaign to run. I learned that it doesn’t work like it looks. You need lots of literature in every voters box. Takes tens of thousands of dollars. I wish I knew a strategy that might work, but I don’t at this point. And unless someone tries once again to point to Ruth Adkins as someone who stood up against the establishment it is well to remember she was endorsed by Stand (until she was she was losing big time). And how has she done? Well, no real surprise. A nice woman but no go on the equity issue or bringing forth issues which go contrary to her upper middle class constituency. If you would like to talk, give me a call. I am in the phone book. Keep up the good work!!

  4. Comment from Zarwen:

    Steve B.,

    You forget that I worked diligently to get Michele Schultz elected last year. She did not win, but as a candidate on a shoestring budget, she made an impressive showing.

    You accuse me of being “hard on Lisa.” I am simply pointing out that she has no track record of any kind of activism here in Portland. She also has no children, which makes it that much harder for her to appeal to parents. I fought for Michele because I believed in her. I have yet to be given a reason to fight for Lisa (other than the fact that she is not Trudy).

    Sadly, you are quite correct that the kingmakers will continue to pick our school board. $ is always the deciding factor. I, too, wish I knew a cure for that!!! However, I am glad you are running for the Zone 4 seat. Do you have any friends who live in Zone 6?

  5. Comment from Terry:

    Make that five comments now, Steve B.

    But still, not an impressive response. I attribute it partially to a summer lull. Hopefully things will pick up once the board makes a decision on Ryan’s replacement.

    I’m glad to hear you’re officially running, Steve. But that still leaves us two candidates shy of a trifecta for change. Like Zarwen, I’m not sold on Lisa Richardson. I’m not sure where she comes down on the crucial issues.

  6. Comment from Lisa:

    Hi all!

    I am pleased to be involved in this conversation.

    Steve, thanks so much for the defense. And Zarwen, please be as hard on me as you like. I am a strong believer in the need to listen to criticism and learn from it. If I expect to win the Zone 6 seat, I’ll need all the help I can get. Criticism is a form of help.

    I do live in Portland, and reside in Zone 6. I completed a two-year teaching assignment in urban Saint Louis, while maintaining a residence in Portland. During those two years I learned vital lessons that have equipped me with knowledge and experience that is all too uncommon on the board.

    I don’t have children in PPS. Indeed, many Portlanders do not. Does that make me unqualified? Absolutely not.

    I have, however, been responsible for children in my charge, as a classroom teacher. I led over 200 students to master rigorous learning objectives in my classroom, battling poverty, hunger, and a tremendous lack of basic skills. I was an extremely effective teacher in spite of daunting odds. I have faced firsthand the challenges that teachers and students face every day. Does that make me automatically qualified? Absolutely not.

    However, my experience in a classroom does set me apart from Director Sargent, and most of those on the board. Experience as a teacher would be a great asset for a member of the school board.

    I will have children someday, and I want to feel confident sending them to the schools I went to. That, in itself, is great motivation for working toward a better PPS, along with my passion for education and desire to bring about truly equitable opportunities.

    I attended some of the schools in PPS that are now in the most distress. Marshall High School, my alma mater, has struggled for years. I was not given the opportunities available to students in other schools. Fortunately, I was successful in spite of that. A great deal of the people who went to those same schools at the same time were not. Every child ought to have equal opportunities, regardless of where their parents choose to (or must) live.

    I would love your support, Zarwen, and the support of others. If I don’t yet have it, please feel free to share how I can get it.

    Regardless of that, keep the criticism coming. I always welcome communication, as I believe that it is my duty to understand the concerns of those in the community that I wish to represent. I am here to listen, learn, and in the process, hopefully, to garner support!

    As a side note, I made the decision to run for the Portland Public Schools Board of Education in Summer 2007. That, too, is something that differentiates me from many others. All too often it seems like a candidacy is the result of a snap decision, and not a genuine investment in the betterment of our communities.

    Thanks for the comments,

    Lisa Richardson

  7. Comment from Lakeitha:

    I have been considering running for Sonia Henning seat however, there are several dilemma’s, one is that I have decided to home school my child because I am not willing to continue to to risk her future to PPS. The second is the situation with Stand for Children, The Portland Schools Foundation and various other organizations that control the outcomes of school board elections. As Steve said, in order to win, a candidate will need a large amount of money and the endorsement of Stand. I am not willing to spend a hundred thousand dollars or even thirty thousand dollars (of my money or anyone else’s) to run a campaign for a volunteer position. That money could go to support programs, pay for teachers and a lot of other things. This is a ridiculous system. Also, why does the entire city get to vote for a candidate that supposedly represents a specific zone? I think that we need to look at reforming how Board members are elected and work to ensure that the Board truly represents it’s constituents. We also need to work to ensure that somewhere in the required duties of the board, board members are required to log a certain amount of constituent contact ( PTA meetings at schools with their zone, teacher meetings, meetings with area directors, Community forums and dialogs and collaborative decision making meetings. It is very rare that i have seen Sonia Henning anywhere other than at the Board Meeting and on channel 28 participating in graduation ceremonies.
    Ok, I feel like I am ranting but, ultimately, we need to reform the system as well as get some quality people who are committed to equity across the district elected.

  8. Comment from Marian:


    I think most of your reasons for not running for Henning’s position are precisely the reasons that you should run! There is no reason you can’t run while you home school your child. I think the many parents who are so fed up with PPS (including yours truly), are the very same people that will actually turn out to vote for this position. They would find it refreshing to have a board member that won’t subject her child to the inadequacies of her neighborhood school but, at the same time, is working to improve the situation.

    As far as the money is concerned, I agree that it is disgusting how much money is wasted in running for this position, when that money could be put to better use. On the other hand, I for one, consider it a good investment to donate to a candidate such as you, who is working to improve things. I am not alone.

    I think there are enough people in Henning’s zone who are still suffering from the disaster of Hurricane Vicki. There is no reason you couldn’t gather enough grass roots support to win this seat. I think you should really consider running. If you do run, get a really good campaign manager who knows what he/she is doing and understands the power of the opposition (Stand, Foundation, etc.) and how to beat it.

  9. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Marian, if you find someone who knows how to beat Stand and The Foundation and still allows the candidate to keep his or her honesty and commitment to equity let me know. My older brother is one of the absolute best political people in the city and he and I talk all the time about how to do this and have yet to come up with a strategy. Minimum $70,000 to compete. Dan Ryan spent $70,000. Of course a lot of that money was put in to make sure I lost, not just him win.

    Lakeitha — spending $30,000, if you could raise it, won’t get you to first base. Obama raised $52 or $53 million last month. That is just politics in America. I don’t like it either. What about public financing for the school board? Worked somewhat for city council? Remember a city council candidate got $150,000 in public financing and they run in about the same area as a school board member, but they have a lot, a real lot, more publicity and interest in their campaigns. How many of your friends can name all the people on the school board? Probably almost none. So you see the problem.

    I was a very popular teacher in Lane Middle School during the 90’s and a huge portion of my campaign centered around improving the middle schools in the poor parts of town. I lost every precinct in the Lane attendance area — why? Dan Ryan had his generalized, nice looking brochures, more than one, in every mailbox. Almost no one paid any real attention just saw his brochures and said, hey this guy talks about achievement (whatever that means) and strengthening neighborhood schools, so he sounds good, oh, what did The Oregonian say about the other guy, oh, he is just a critic and has no solutions. So how did it all come out — we all know the answer to that.

    Keep up the good work.

  10. Comment from Lakeitha:

    Thank You Steve for your analysis. I would absolutely be interested in looking at how we can get public financing for school board candidates. After all, The person serves the entire district and it is a volunteer position. Public financing would help to get rid of the influence of Stand, PSF and others.

  11. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Just for some perspective on the money…

    In 2007, David Wynde spent just under $11K to get re-elected. His challenger, Michele Schultz, spent less than $4K, and lost by a mere 15%.

    In that same election, though, incumbent Doug Morgan and challenger Ruth Adkins spent a combined $81K (Adkins won by 9%).

    So I think Mr. Buel is being a little too pessimistic to say $30K won’t get you on first base. It all depends on what the incumbent spends. Yes, Ryan famously spent $70K, but that remains a statistical outlier.

    Also, if three candidates ran as a slate, and pooled money, they could do a few city-wide mailers.

    I’m all for public financing, but that obviously isn’t happening by May, 2009.

    Meanwhile, three people running as a unified “equity” slate could conceivably raise enough money between now and next spring through the grass (and net) roots to compete.

    $70K sounds like a lot, but if candidates and activists started a concerted effort in the fall, visiting every PTA in the Jefferson, Madison, Marshall and Roosevelt clusters, they could scare up a lot of $5-$25 donations.

    The return on the investment in electing equity candidates would be exponential: a return of the tens of millions of dollars that is bled annually from these neighborhoods under the current administration.

  12. Comment from Terry:

    Here’s how you can get the backing of the school equity activists who visit this site, Lisa:

    Promise to take the lead in the overhaul (or abolition) of the district’s transfer policy, which as Steve R. has so eloquently argued, effectively robs the district’s poorest schools of their neighborhood students and the money that accompanies them.

    And promise to support Steve Buel’s proposal, in the name of equity, for added FTE at the five high schools most injured by school choice and open transfers. (It’s on this site.)

    As for me, I would hope to see you take a stance on the idiocy of market-based school choice.

    That would be a start.

  13. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Wow, Michelle Schutlz only spent $4,000. I didn’t realize that. I assume Wynde spent accordingly. So if we organized 3 solid candidates and went at them whole hog, wouldn’t Stand just raise the ante? Over $80,000 in the Adkins race alone, though I know some of it was a loan to Morgan.

    Listen, I am not trying to be a naysayer here. I just want people to truly understand what it takes to run and win 3 school board seats for people who aren’t approved by SFC and the PSF, or even one. If people are willing to put in the time and energy and money that it takes and they fully understand what we are talking about then I am in full bore. But if we are going to Pollyanna the whole thing then that is a different matter. I am running no matter which, but I am sure running a different race with a totally different commitment one way or the other. And the middle ground doesn’t cut it either.

  14. Comment from Zarwen:

    Just to clarify some of the information that has been posted here:

    Michele Schultz didn’t actually “spend” $4K. Only about half (or less) of that was cash; the other half was “in-kind,” meaning donations of goods or services. Michele actually DECLINED most cash donations, saying she would rather see people donate to their schools.

    All of the other candidates running had in-kind donations of $1K or less, the rest of their budgets being cash. I believe the donations from SFC amounted to something like $10K per candidate. Whatever money Adkins and Morgan (and Wynde) spent beyond that was whatever they raised via donations and/or loans. (Doug Morgan borrowed a substantial sum from his brother, who lives in California.)

    Steve B., you might be right about SFC upping the ante, but then again, you might be wrong: this is an untested theory. I think Steve R. is really on to something with his idea of recruiting an “equity slate” with a joint campaign, including joint fundraising. You may recall that Morgan, Regan, Williams and Wynde ran together as a slate 5 years ago. Why not fight fire with fire and see how far we get? At this point, I’d say there’s nothing to lose by trying.

  15. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Very good point about Schultz’s spending. I totally missed that she only took in and spent $1K in cash.

    Morgan’s loan was $20K.

    By the way, if anybody hasn’t seen Orestar, this is a great place to see who’s putting money into whose campaign.

  16. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Zarwen, you always seem to have excellent comments. The money problem does not so much come directly from Stand, it is their and PSF’s crowning of the board members to vote for which opens up the coffers of people. This also gives the candidate pretty much The Oregonian endorsement, lots of organizational and volunteer time out of Stand itself, the west hills and upper middle class buzz, and the legitimacy for other endorsements. It also creates a negative buzz against whoever is running as it is necessary to offset the generalized message that their candidates run under. The money is then parlayed into high quality brochures designed by people who really know how, and spread throughout the city about 3 times. A decent contrary candidate is always going to get a decent amount of votes. I did fine. Michelle did fine with no money it seems. But we are not talking about doing fine, but actually winning and for that to take place you need to win in those precincts in upper middle class areas where the largest percentage of people vote. I never won one precinct and am willing to guess it was pretty much the same for Michelle. So the question is how do you offset their strategy.

  17. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    This may be Pollyanna-ish, but perhaps the way to win is to mobilize voters in the neighborhoods that are getting screwed.

    There is a lot of untapped potential there.

    Only around 50,000 people bothered to vote in the 2007 election. And Buel’s right; it’s the wealthier, whiter precincts with the highest turnout.

    Schultz spent virtually nothing, and came within 7,348 votes of an incumbent who was not only endorsed by Stand, but was recruited to run in the first place by the very elites we’re talking about.

    It would take a concerted grass roots effort to pull this off, and we might fail miserably in our first try. But what’s the alternative?

    We just keep looking in from the outside, as the powers that be continue to steal resources from the kids who need them most.

    I’m tired of playing that game.

  18. Comment from Lisa R.:

    Hello again.

    There are so many strategic options for this May. I believe it is important to be realistic, and Steve B. has excellent points. However, as Steve R. pointed out, it is feasible to win without the deep pocket funding that some other candidates have had. Either way, there must be a balance between what is needed to win the spot and frivolity. I think that smaller donations from more people are the way to go. It can be too easy to lose sight of one’s purpose when more money than necessary is involved. At the same time, it’d be hard to win with $0.

    Terry, thanks so much for the advice. I will respond to your comments very soon, once I’ve more thouroughly studied Steve B’s proposal.

  19. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Here’s an encouraging story.

  20. Comment from Terry:

    How’d you find that Sean Tevis website, Steve? It’s great. Maybe we could crib it for our “equity slate”. Not word for word, of course, but the general thrust.

    Speaking of slates, the 2003 slate of four was definitely engineered by Stand, PSF, and various ex-school board members. Perhaps even the Portland Business Alliance.

    I’m pleased to see that at least some people are beginning to understand the significance of the school board in determining PPS’ educational policies.

  21. Comment from Steve Buel:

    No offense with the Pollyanna comments intended. I have run my own campaign 4 times and been involved in a myriad of campaigns. The idea of running a serious slate of three candidates is a great one because you can spend money to benefit all three, particularly with the all important mailings. Stand did this in the Dan Ryan election with part of their money. I received a brochure for all three of their endorsed candidates. There was a 10-11-12 coalition of three candidates a few years back which had some decent financing and was defeated pretty good.

    The organizational structure and the commitment has to be big time to have any chance. We would need about $150,000 and tons of volunteers to hit the streets as well as organize coffees, events, and the people who are somewhat disgruntled and active in the schools. This means hundreds of hours for the candidates and huge numbers of hours for the main cadre of volunteer leaders. Who’s in??

  22. Comment from Marian:

    Steve R.,

    I think you got it right when you mentioned the key to winning ” . . . is to mobilize voters in the neighborhoods that are getting screwed.”

    I think the reason Schultz had such a good showing is because so many people were pissed at Wynde for his rubber stamping of VP’s policies. And remember –she declared her candidacy late in the game, too. If someone like Lakeitha were to declare her candidacy now, she would have the benefit of getting her name out there and connecting with enough connected people. If she got enough support from people in the right places–and there are ways to make this happen–she might be able to get a Stand endorsement. Though I am not a Stand member, I know a lot of good people in my community who are, that are open to giving candidates a forum. In other words, approach Stand at a grass roots level in your own community and work your way up the ladder.

    Remember that both Ruth Adkins and Doug Morgan had Stand’s endorsement.

    Ruth was excellent at organizing at the grass roots level. Her fliers had listed names of her supporters that just about anyone in one’s own individual community knew personally.

    Another thing Ruth did very well was to attend house parties. She got to know people in the community, drum up a few bucks, hand out lawn signs, and gather support.

    I think we are being too pessimistic. This is doable! Steve R. is right on with his recommendation of mobilizing people in the neighborhoods that got screwed.

  23. Comment from Ruth Adkins:

    Chiming in again–I think public financing of school board elections would be a huge help toward improving the diversity of the board as well as the quality of the campaign. You would be able to spend all your time talking to voters about issues rather than asking everyone for money. A limited amount of public funds would reduce the overall amount spent on the campaigns (as Steve B notes, this is mostly direct mail and as Lakeitha notes, it’s crazy to spend such large amts of money that could be going to schools)–that is, there would be a pressure not to exceed the public funding amounts and it would stay relatively sane.

    Having collected a bunch of signatures/$5 forms on behalf of a publicly funded candidate, I am a firm believer in the model. Plus, of course, it removes any issues about candidates potentially being beholden to powerful contributors.

    Speaking of which, I would like to correct a misstatement in earlier comments. I did not receive a dime from Stand for Children, nor from the Foundation’s PAC. Doug and I did get the dual endorsement from both orgs which of course was helpful, but I received no financial or organizational help from either group.

    I would love to see someone organize a community forum for people who are even potentially interested in running for school board, with info and Q&A with board members, campaign experts, etc. both to get the scoop on the job and tips on how to run.

    As for the zone model- I think it’s actually a good way to go. Having to run citywide ensures that you are focused on the entire district-that is the core of the job, in a nutshell, to be accountable for every single student not just your own part of town. At the same time, while you don’t technically represent your zone, you do have a deeper understanding and connection with your own area that you bring to the table. If there weren’t the zones then we’d run the risk of not getting members from around the city.

    The biggest problem I think is that a part-to-full-time, very intense volunteer job is more than most people can afford to undertake so there has tended to be a severe lack of economic diversity. To maintain the independence of the board, I am not sure of the solution, other than some kind of blind trust where a stipend is supplied but one has no idea where the money came from!

  24. Comment from Toni M.:


    If I had chosen to attend Reed or Portland State, etc. I would run for the board myself!

    *Very well put, Ruth.

    *This is out of my heart as being on the board is a VOLUNTEER position. Remember that folks. They don’t HAVE to do this, they do it because they want to.

  25. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Ruth, are you offering to lead a workshop? Seriously, that would be fantastic. I would support you in that.

    Re. public financing, we can virtually roll our own, to a small extent, by encouraging people to use the $50 Ore. income tax credit — that’s credit, not deduction — to donate. This means every Oregon taxpayer can effectively take $50 ($100 for couples filing jointly) directly from the state treasury and give it to a campaign.

    With a focus on raising $50 from 1000 people, a campaign could get $50,000 of public funds at no net expense to the donors. And who knows what could happen if you coupled this with a $5 – $10 internet campaign.

    Also, Ruth is right about Stand not giving her campaign money.

    But she did take $500 from Stand’s board chair and benefactor, Gun Denhart; $250 from Portland School Foundation’s then-executive director Cynthia Guyer; and $6,000 from Rosemary Lewin, a major donor to PSF.

    There can be no doubt that the endorsement of Stand helps open some big wallets, and it is indisputable that the candidate who spends the most money wins in the overwhelming majority of cases.

    Toni, Zone 2 is up for election in 2011. You finish early at Scripps and come back to Portland.

  26. Comment from Ruth Adkins:

    I would be very happy to serve on a “how to run/what’s it like to serve on the board” panel, but someone else would need to organize the event! I know you guys aren’t big fans of SFC but this is the kind of thing that would be a great fit for them I would think. I do think it’s much needed. How many more people might consider serving if they just got some basic information? It’s worth a shot.

    Asking 1,000 people to use their $50 credit would be just as much work as the current system – if not more. I still think public financing is the way to go.

    I had a mix of a few big donors, a whole bunch of small donors in the $25-50-100 range, and a ton of volunteers/in-kind donations. The crazy part was not deciding to run until February so it was truly a race to the finish. But I’ll save that for the workshop….

    Toni’s already got my vote!

  27. Comment from Michele Schultz:

    I do not have a lot of time – but just learned this discussion was happening and wanted to share some thoughts. I had a lot of opportunity to do well because I was the only challenger in the race. When there are lots of challengers it is so complicated to figure out how to get accurate media attention.

    I would love to see a way where pressure could be put on the Oregonian and the other papers to make sure that “how much money have you raised” is not part of the criteria that they will use to judge candidates. We really need to have school board members that are effective board members and policy makers – not effective as individual fundraisers.

    I spoke with Stand for Children about doing a workshop(s) on the role of the School Board, running a campaign, etc. soon after the last election. I think either Stand or someone needs to take some leadership on identifying and supporting potential school board members. Would the League of Women Voters be interested?

    I wonder if this next election may not be different again – in that there is a general(mis)perception that things are much improved with PPS… for the folks I know that do not have kids (that pesky 80% of Portland’s population) it is so interesting to see how short the short term memory is… recently someone said to me – “I know there was trouble with those K-8 schools… but I think that has all been fixed… right?”

    I take a deep breath… and start educating the 80% one more time…

  28. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Michelle, nice to hear from you. Stand already takes all the leadership in identifying and then electing ALL the school board members. What needs to happen is that they take their role of helping children seriously and get entirely out of the endorsement process for school board members. The same goes for The School Foundation. This would increase their credibility a great deal. Now, they are seen by people in the know as just organizations which want control so their schools can be favored. Too bad, they do a lot of good work.