The school board fiddles

Here’s Monday nights agenda for the Portland School Board:


    • MESD 2007-2008 Annual Report (information item)

  5. OTHER BUSINESS 7:00 pm

    • Council of Great City Schools Annual Conference (information item)

  6. ADJOURN 7:10 pm

So the school board can only find 40 minutes of work that needs to be done? Or should I say 40 minutes of reports to receive. This is in a school district which spends hundreds of millions of dollars of citizens’ taxes, which is beset by problems ranging from incredible school inequity, massive economic problems on the horizon, disastrous maintenance deficits, serious teacher hiring malpractices, rampant school discipline problems, incredible numbers of dropouts, a TAG program which desperately needs to be revamped, a k-8 curriculum which is the envy of no one, a student transfer program which is further segregating the school district, schools which are inundated with a culture of testing instead of education (no offense to those educators who are fighting this), schools without libraries or librarians, huge numbers of kids who can’t read or do basic math, and a myriad of other serious problems. 40 minutes?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know that Superintendent Carol Smith has begun to address many of these problems and the school board does a lot of work in committees. They are good people who care about Portland and its children. But that is not enough. The school board is elected to lead, to solve problems, and work for the best educational programs it can. It needs real public input, serious public discussions about directions to take, resolutions put forth to address problems which are debated openly and sold to the public and the school district’s employees, real leadership which garners genuine support and confidence. Leadership that continues to move us in a new direction where all kids are important and which looks at education in Portland as something more than a referendum on programs which arise out of some hazy educational research done somewhere by someone for some reason we don’t understand, and which we then push on our teaching staff eating up their time in meetings instead of having them be further engaged in the teaching process.

So I call on each school board member to bring their resolutions to the table. This is the time. November and the first part of December are a slow time in education. A good time to make some progress. A good time to look at those problems which are beginning to fester. A good time to discuss those problems which need to be addressed by our city’s educational leaders –- you, the board.

Steve Buel has taught in public schools for 41 years. He served on the PPS school board (1979-1983) and co-authored the 1980 School Desegregation Plan. He has followed PPS politics since 1975.