Category: Labor Relations

The end of the line

It is with both sadness and a sense of great relief that I tell you this will be the final post on PPS Equity. [Here's Nancy's farewell.]For two years we have documented inequities in Portland’s largest school district and advocated for positive change.  Along the way, we’ve explored how to use new media tools to influence public policy and foster a more inclusive form of democracy.

The reason for this shutdown is simple: we are moving our family out of the district, and will no longer be stakeholders. A very large part of our decision to leave is the seeming inability of Portland Public Schools to provide access to comprehensive secondary education to all students in all parts of the city. We happen to live in a part of town — the Jefferson cluster — which is chronically under-enrolled, underfunded and besieged by administrative incompetence and neglect. We have no interest in playing a lottery with our children’s future, and no interest in sending our children out of their neighborhood for a basic  secondary education. These are the options for roughly half of the families in the district if they want comprehensive 6-12 education for their children.

While there are some signs that the district may want to provide comprehensive high schools for all, there is little or no acknowledgment of the ongoing middle grade crisis. If the district ever gets around to this, it will be too late for my children, and thousands of others who do not live in Portland’s elite neighborhoods on the west side of the river or in parts of the Grant and Cleveland clusters.

It cannot be understated that the failure of PPS to provide equally for all students in all parts of the district is rooted in Oregon’s horribly broken school funding system, which entered crisis mode with 1990′s Measure 5. A segregated city, declining enrollment and a lack of stable leadership and vision made things especially bad in Portland.

But Portland’s elites soon figured out how to keep things decent in their neighborhoods. The Portland Schools Foundation was founded to allow wealthy families to directly fund their neighborhood schools. Student transfers were institutionalized, allowing students and funding to flow out of Portland’s poorest neighborhoods and shore up enrollment and funding in the wealthiest neighborhoods.  Modest gains for Portland’s black community realized in the 1980s were reversed as middle schools were closed and enrollment dwindled. A two-tiered system, separate and radically unequal, persists 20 years after Measure 5 and nearly 30 years after the Black United Front’s push for justice in the delivery of public education.

PPS seems to be at least acknowledging this injustice. Deputy Superintendent Charles Hopson laid it out to the City Club of Portland last October: “It is a civil rights violation of the worst kind… when based on race and zip code roughly 85% of white students have access to opportunity in rigorous college prep programs, curriculum and resources compared to 27% of black students.”

Despite this acknowledgment, the district is only addressing this inequity in the final four years of a K-12 system. We don’t, in fact, have a system, but a collection of schools that vary significantly in terms of size, course offerings, and teacher experience, often correlating directly to the wealth of the neighborhoods in which they sit.

As the district embarks on their high school redesign plan, which is largely in line with my recommendations, predictable opposition has arisen.

Some prominent Grant families rose up, first in opposition to boundary changes that might affect their property values, then to closing Grant, then to closing any schools. (They seem to have gone mostly quiet after receiving assurances from school board members that their school was safe from closure. Perhaps they also realized that they have more to fear if no schools are closed, since it would mean the loss of close to 600 students at Grant if students and funding were spread evenly among ten schools. In that scenario, the rich educational stew currently enjoyed at Cleveland, Grant, Lincoln and Wilson will be a thinned out to a thin gruel. It would be an improvement for the parts of town that long ago lost their comprehensive high schools, but a far cry from what our surrounding suburban districts offer with the exact same per-student state funding.)

There is also opposition from folks who reflexively oppose school closures, many of them rightly suspicious of the district’s motivations with regards to real estate dealings and their propensity to target poor neighborhoods for closures.

Finally, there is opposition on the school board from the two non-white members, Martín González and Dilafruz Williams.

González’s opposition appears to stem from the valid concern that the district doesn’t have a clue how to address the achievement gap — the district can’t even manage to spend all of its Title I money, having carried over almost $3 million from last year — and that there is little in the high school plan that addresses this. (It’s unclear how he feels about the clear civil rights violation of unequal access this plan seeks to address. It seems to me we should be able to address both ends of the problem — inputs and outcomes — at the same time . The failure to address the achievement gap should not preclude providing equal opportunity. It’s the least we can do.)

Williams noted that she doesn’t trust district administrators to carry out such large scale redesign, especially in light of the bungled K-8 transition which she also opposed. It’s hard to argue with that position; the administration has done little to address the distrust in the community stemming from many years of turbulent and destructive changes focused mainly in low-income neighborhoods.

But more significantly, Williams has long opposed changing the student transfer system on the grounds that it would constitute “massive social engineering” to return to a neighborhood-based enrollment policy. Ironically, nobody on the school board has articulated the shameful nature of our two-tiered system more clearly and forcefully as Williams. But as one of only two non-whites on the board, Williams also speaks as one of the most outwardly class-conscious school board members. In years past, she has said that many middle class families tell her they would leave the district if the transfer policy were changed.

(Note to director Williams: Here’s one middle class family that’s leaving because of the damage the transfer policy has done to our neighborhood schools. And it’s too bad the district can’t have a little more concern for working class families. I know quite a few parents of black and brown children who have pulled their kids from the district due to its persistent institutional classism and racism.)

Williams (along with many of her board colleagues) has also long blamed the federal No Child Left Behind Act for the massive student outflows from our poorest schools, but this is a smokescreen. Take Jefferson High for example, which was redesigned in part to reset the clock on NCLB sanctions. Yet despite this, the district has continued to allow priority transfers out. Jefferson has lost vastly more funding to out-transfers than the modest amount of Title I money it currently receives.  If we don’t take Title I money, we don’t have to play by NCLB rules. (This is not a radical concept; the district has chosen this course at Madison High.)

It is hard to have a great deal of hope for Portland Public Schools, despite some positive signals from superintendent Carole Smith. We continue to lack a comprehensive vision for a K-12 system. English language learners languish in a system that is chronically out of compliance with federal civil rights law. The type of education a student receives continues to be predictable by race, class and ZIP code. Special education students are warehoused in a gulag of out-of-sight contained classrooms and facilities, and their parents must take extreme measures to assure even their most basic rights. Central administration, by many accounts, is plagued by a dysfunctional culture that actively protects fiefdoms and obstructs positive change. Many highly influential positions are now held by non-educators, and there is more staff in the PR department than in the curriculum department. Recent teacher contract negotiations showed a pernicious anti-labor bias and an apparent disconnect between Carole Smith and her staff. Principals are not accountable to staff, parents or the community, and are rarely fired. Positions are created for unpopular principals at the central office, and retired administrators responsible for past policy failures are brought back on contract to consult on new projects.

If there is a hope for the district, it lies in community action of the kind taken by the Black United Front in 1980. The time for chronicling the failures of the district is over.

In his 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail Martin Luther King Jr. wrote: “In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action.”

I think this Web site has served to establish injustice. Many of us have tried to work with the district, serving on committees, testifying at board meetings, and attending community meetings. My family has brought tens of thousands of dollars in grant money and donations to the district, dedicated countless volunteer hours, and spent many evenings and weekends gathering and analyzing data.

There is no doubt that injustices exist, and there is no doubt that we have tried to negotiate. It’s time for self-purification — the purging of angry and violent thoughts — and direct action. It’s time to get off the blogs and take to the streets.

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

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Teacher contract approved: What’s it mean for teachers?

It sounds like the district got at least part of what they wanted regarding instructional time. What did teachers get, besides modest cost of living raises for two out of three years? What’s the teacher mood?

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

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Teacher contract open thread

News over the holiday weekend that the district and teachers has many wondering: how did the two sides, so far apart for so long, suddenly reach agreement? Details of the deal are confidential until it is presented to teachers. Comments, speculation, insider leaks, etc., are all welcome here!

(I’ll keep the ticker up until teachers ratify a new contract.)

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

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Non-educators derail contract talks

They have not played nice in the sand box from the beginning. Early on they would cancel and delay negotiations regularly. About November, we were very close to a settlement and out of the blue, they switched negotiators, essentially starting the entire process over.

At one point Superintendent Carole Smith was participating in the negotiations. Evidently she was too earnest in getting a settlement. The next session, after a particularly productive session, Smith was not there, but she was ‘available’ if needed. The session after that, Smith was neither present nor available. We think they “threw her under a bus” or something. Maybe they should have had her park her car somewhere else.

I’m no negotiator myself, but it doesn’t take much to know that a good negotiator will try to get the other side to express intentions regarding the issue being discussed. When the district would finally articulate to the PAT their intentions and desired outcome of a given article being discussed, the PAT would then write up the understood outcome in contract lingo. The district would then say, ‘Oh that’s not what we meant’! And around they’d go again.

After one of the PAT’s rallies, the district ‘magically’ came up with a way to cut $11 million to avoid the 5 furlough days. Now, after the passage of 66 and 67, they deny having a spare $11 million. This begs the question – did they really need the furlough days they were asking for? Or, was it all a ploy to pressure teachers into making concessions on the contract in order to avoid the furlough days?

Where is the district’s increased expense forcing them to trim their budget, especially now that 66 & 67 have passed? It’s certainly not health care. Their health insurance expense for teachers is going up only 80 cents per teacher per month. Wow. I know people whose insurance is going up 25%! On a side note, The Trust, the district’s health care organization, does an incredible job, as this is an unheard of low increase. (The Trust is a board of both district personnel and PAT members managing the health care products they offer to PAT members).

District folks are not educators and do not understand what being a teacher means. They don’t ‘get’ how schools function and the role that teachers play. The PAT negotiators had to explain to them what “student contact time” is. The district wants a longer day for middle school teachers but were googly-eyed when it was explained to them that that would mean those teachers wouldn’t be able to go to staff meetings or attend after-school IEP meetings (two things held precious to administrators). If those teachers had to teach until 4:30 and then attend meetings, their work day would end at 6:30!

Currently, teachers have the first 15 minutes of their work day to get ready for the day – make copies, set up curricular materials for the day, etc. They also have the last 30 minutes of the day to call parents, see students, grade papers, etc. The district wants that time to be instructional time. It had to be explained to them that to require teachers to start their teaching day the minute their working day started and ended, they would not be available to students for questions or help on homework, contacting parents, or even entering the day’s attendance into the eSis database. Again, district officials were googly-eyed when this was explained to them.

This is just a sampling of how things have gone. We’re still trying to negotiate a contract that would expire this June. It seems clear these are people who are out to bust a union.

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Teacher contract talks at ‘impasse’

In an e-mail to the community, school board presiding co-chair Trudy Sargent writes that the district has informed state mediators that negotiations for a teacher contract have reached an impasse, 583 days after the last contract expired.

Now that an impasse has been declared, both sides have seven days to publish final offers, after which there is a 30-day cooling off period. That means a teacher lockout or strike is possible as early as mid-March.

Update: Portland Association of Teachers president Rebecca Levison e-mailed us this statement in response to the district’s PR blitz:

Portland Teachers have continually sacrificed for their students. They have taken salary freezes, they have reduced their health benefits, they have eliminated benefits and they even worked ten days without pay to keep all students in school. No others made that sacrifice, not even the highest paid employees.

The truth is, the District’s proposal would increase workload, eliminate teacher rights, and result in perhaps the lowest beginning teacher salary of the entire Metro 14 school districts. At the same time, many upper level management employees received up to $15,000 this year in pay increases.

Upper management continues to demonstrate weak leadership and poor judgment from the K- 8 and high school redesign to teacher negotiations and relationships.

PAT will continue to work for a fair settlement for Portland teachers.

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

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Jobs with Justice calls for show of support for teachers

As Portland teachers approach two years without a contract, Portland Jobs with Justice is calling on parents to join the fight for a fair resolution. Come find out how you can help.

  • 6-7 p.m. tonight, February 4
  • PAT office, 345 NE 8th Ave.
  • Dinner and child care provided
  • RSVP to Margaret, 503-236-5573 or margaret@jwjpdx.org

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

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Chalkboard on the Wrong Road

Someone ought to tell the leaders of the Chalkboard Project that no one uses a chalkboard anymore.

And someone should also tell them that schools are about educating kids not teachers. There is a great confusion in educational circles that the major problems in the schools can be solved by better educating or evaluating teachers. Yep, we need more realistic education in our university teacher-training programs, and mentoring young teachers is a good idea. But spending millions of dollars and stealing time from children’s education in the form of half days and stealing hours and hours of time from teacher classroom preparation to do in-service to make teachers incrementally better, and sometimes worse is an educational travesty.

Most education takes place in the classroom and within schools. Improving education should focus on these two things. How do we make the school run better? How do we make the classroom work better so kids can learn more? These are not questions which will be solved in Washington D.C. with Race to the Top bribes or by school reform based on suspect, supposed educational research.

School problems need to be directly addressed by the staff in that school working together in an open manner which focuses on the problems particular to that school. Sure, the staff can ask for help upstairs in the administration office (which might include such requests as we need a librarian), and sure this can include training the staff thinks they might need. But, training in the latest educational trends, mostly designed to cover the backsides of administrators, is not particularly helpful. (This doesn’t mean an administrator can’t write down ideas and give them to his or her teachers to consider.)

Same goes in the classroom. Each classroom is different. Each is a little world unto itself with an infinite number of interactions and nuances. Spending hours on imparting national trendy reforms isn’t really much help. But that is what we do. Instead we should create an atmosphere which allows real communication between staff, including administrators, about ideas which teachers might find useful, including ideas specific to that particular classroom or the teaching of that subject. This doesn’t mean evaluating more, it means encouraging and supporting more.

My fervent hope is that PPS and the State of Oregon will figure it out. The Chalkboard project isn’t helping.

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.

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In the news: teacher forced out, files suit

Madison High School teacher Val Gogoleski has filed a complaint with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, claiming Portland Public Schools failed to provide accommodations for her disability and forced her to retire three years early.

In a story in today’s Portland Tribune, Jennifer Anderson reports that Gogoleski also filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and will file a lawsuit against the district.

Gogoleski, who has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, says the district was slow to provide two out of three accommodations she requested (a phone and elevator access) and refused a third: a schedule with two prep periods.

Gogoleski was outspoken about district decisions she disagreed with, including during a recent controversy on hiring a new principal at Madison. “Speaking up as an employee means paying a price,” wrote Gogoleski on this blog last May.

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

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Breaking: Oregonian notices contract dispute after 531 days, sends reporter to rally

The Oregonian, after missing a major teacher rally last month, sent a reporter to tonight’s rally, where teachers called  for a contract to replace the one that expired 531 days ago. Kim Melton reports that teachers disrupted the school board meeting, with superintendent Carole Smith and board members filing out of the auditorium in the face of chanting teachers.

The Oregonian‘s coverage includes no quotes from the district or teachers and does no critical analysis of the causes of stuck negotiations, instead proffering that “[t]he economy is partly to blame for the slow pace.” Melton also fails to mention that teachers included concessions in their settlement offer Friday, and were met with district demands for more concessions. With this dearth of information, the usual teacher- and union-bashing  ensued in reader comments on OregonLive.com.

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

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Contract talks remained stalled; teachers to rally Monday

In negotiations Friday, the teachers’ union offered a settlement package including concessions the district has been demanding. Portland Public Schools negotiators accepted the concessions, and demanded more.

Frustrated by this lack of progress, teachers will once again take to the streets and march on the school board Monday to press for a settlement. The rally begins at 6:15 p.m., Monday, December 15 14, at the Rose Quarter Parking lot on N. Broadway and Benton.

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

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