sta·sis \ˈstā-səs, ˈsta-\ noun
1: a slowing or stoppage of the normal flow of a bodily fluid or semifluid: as a: slowing of the current of circulating blood b: reduced motility of the intestines with retention of feces 2 a: a state of static balance or equilibrium : stagnation b: a state or period of stability during which little or no evolutionary change in a lineage occurs

Stakeholders in Portland Public Schools have noticed that not much seems to be getting done (at least publicly) on several critical issues.

  • K-8 The Superintendent’s PK-8 Action Team hasn’t held a public meeting or posted new information since May, at which time the lack of library staff was identified as a critical issue. Five K8 schools continue to operate without library staff, and no status has been reported on adjusting the budget formula to provide more opportunity to the small cohorts of middle graders in K8 schools. The lack of a comprehensive middle school option in two of nine clusters (Jefferson and Madison) continues to be a glaring symbol of the inequity that is being institutionalized by the lack of action on this issue.
  • Libraries Eight schools in PPS have no library staff whatsoever, including five K-8s, one PK-5, one 6-8 and one 6-12. Three high schools lack a certified media specialist. There has been talk of making library staff centrally-funded, as was done in the last budget for counselors, but there is no visible progress on this.
  • High Schools The high school design team hasn’t posted any new information since September, when it posted a high level goal statement (PDF). A community committee to provide input to this group never materialized.
  • Transfer policy Two and a half years ago, county and city auditors found that the district’s transfer policy led to “significantly less socio-economic diversity in schools than would be the case if all students attended their neighborhood school,” contrary to its stated intent to “promote equity, diversity and student achievement.” They also found that “the transfer policy competes with other Board policies such as strong neighborhood schools and investing in poor performing schools.” (Flynn, Suzanne and Blackmer, Gary. “Portland Public Schools Student Transfer System: District objectives not met” (PDF) June, 2006.)

    Since this audit report was published, the school board and administration have failed to address the central question (What is the purpose of the school choice system?) or make any modifications to mitigate the damage it causes. Each year we are told it is too late to make changes for the coming transfer cycle.

    Likewise, this year, a citizen committee was to be formed, announced several weeks ago. The committee still has not formed, though applications were taken and applicants were interviewed. With the transfer cycle for 2009-10 set to open January 23, it appears the district has once again stalled long enough to avoid any changes or clarifications for yet another year.

    Meanwhile, schools with high out-transfer rates continue to be punished by a funding formula that drains funding along with enrollment. It is unlikely this will be changed, since the budget cycle is soon upon us as well.
    Update, 12:40 p.m.: The committee has been selected and will hold its first meeting two and a half weeks before next year’s transfer cycle begins.

  • Facilities Efforts to get a billion dollar facilities bond on the ballot came to a screeching halt last winter, and soon after, a high-priced consultant’s scathing e-mail went public. The official reasons for holding off on the bond were reasonable (we need a high school design first, and there was a good chance the double majority law would be overturned, allowing a bond to be passed during a special election). But with no visible progress on high schools or K-8s, this “critical” issue seems to have been reduced to a simmer.
  • Equity As with high schools, a committee of community members had been suggested to advise the superintendent’s equity team. No such committee has been announced, and no information has been posted about the internal team. With equity the “over-arching” goal of Carole Smith and her second budget cycle looming, you’d think this would at least be a public relations priority.

I certainly don’t mean to imply nothing is being done. But given the severity of the problems, the disgrace they bring to our fair city, and the superintendent’s stated priorities, it’s shameful actual change on these issues is evidently being kicked down the road yet another year. Our children aren’t getting any younger.

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