Category: Libraries

Lessons from the Young Men’s Academy

Official news that the Young Men’s Academy (YMA) at Jefferson High School will close at the end of this school year is certainly no surprise. But rather than point fingers over obvious mistakes, we should pause and reflect on the lessons to be learned.

Jefferson, Oregon’s only majority black high school, is emblematic of how Portland Public Schools treats its black students. No other high school in Portland offers as few classes as Jefferson — 34 classes currently listed (not counting dance classes), with no music, chemistry, physics, calculus, world languages other than Spanish, or a single A.P. class — and no other high school has experimented with gender segregation or uniforms.

The first lesson we should take away from the failed experiment in not just gender segregation but also “smallness” taken to the extreme, is that size matters. This is a lesson PPS needs to learn system-wide. If we are unwilling or unable to pay for it, we shouldn’t design it into the system.

The young women at the Jefferson Young Women’s Academy (YWA), though faring better than their counterparts at the YMA, are still suffering from unfunded smallness. They are the only high school campus in the district without a staffed library. They also are cut off from the after-school programs at Jefferson, with no transportation provided to and from their satellite campus two miles away.

We should also remember that both YMA and YWA have so far served mostly middle grade students — high school grades have been phased in as students age up — and that the Jefferson cluster does not have a middle school.

By far and away the most important lesson to learn from the failure of Jefferson’s YMA is one of fundamental fairness. Why is the choice of middle grade students in the Jefferson cluster between K-8 or gender-segregated 6-12? Why doesn’t the Jefferson cluster (and Madison, too) have a comprehensive middle school option, like every other cluster in Portland?

Or, to put it more bluntly: Why do we insist on treating black students so much differently (that is, worse) than everybody else?

We should know by now that endless promises, experiments and reconfigurations have only made Jefferson weaker and less desirable to the greater community — declining enrollment figures don’t lie. More of the same may be seen as confirmation of the suspicion heard frequently around the neighborhood: that PPS wants Jefferson (and its black students) to fail.

In the end, what we should take away from this particular failed experiment is that Jefferson students need what all students need: a rich and interesting curriculum, taught by experienced teachers, with opportunity in their neighborhood on par with every other neighborhood in the district.

Portland Public Schools has the facilities, and, more importantly, the neighborhood student populations, to support comprehensive high schools and middle schools in all nine clusters. But the district’s twin experiments in “smallness” and “choice” have led to a system wildly out of balance and shamefully unfair to the students most in need of a comprehensive education.

Perhaps the announcement of YMA’s demise on the day before a historic election augurs a new day, one in which black students in Portland, Ore. have the same kinds of schools in their neighborhoods as white students, and they are no longer subject to ill-conceived, under-funded experiments and second-tier opportunity.

One can only hope.

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

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Libraries: an equity index

Neighborhood middle schools no library staff: 0
Of 30 neighborhood K8 schools, number with no library staff: 4
High schools with no library staff: 1 (Young Women’s Academy)
High schools with no certified media specialist (librarian): 3 (Marshall campus, Roosevelt campus, Young Women’s Academy)
Library staff at each of Cleveland, Grant, Lincoln High Schools: 3

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

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On the right track with Carole Smith

Lest the casual reader believe PPS Equity is solely focused on the things Portland Public Schools is doing wrong (we’ve been described as “scathing” by Sarah Mirk at the Merc), we should pause and take note of the things that are on the right track.

In Carole Smith’s September 5 speech (58KB PDF) to the City Club of Portland (reviewed by Peter Campbell here and by Terry Olson on his blog), she highlighted what I see as a significant policy shift from her predescessor. In her prepared remarks, she says

…our high school campuses with the lowest enrollment — the ones usually suggested for closure — each have at least 1,400 high school age students living in their neighborhoods. As a city, we have a choice: We can declare defeat, shut down those campuses and tell 1,400 students they have to take a long bus ride every day to a high school in a more affluent part of town — sacrificing their ability to participate in athletics, after-school programs at those schools that meet families’ needs and are attractive to students.

I’m not ready to give up on those schools and on those neighborhoods.

Hey, I could have written this! In fact, I have, many times.

(The next step is to figure out how to pay for it. I’ve long suggested balancing enrollment through a combination of equalizing opportunities across the district and a neighborhood-based enrollment policy. Carole Smith and her staff haven’t made that next step yet, but unless they have a 50% increase in funding or want to cut programming in wealthier neighborhoods, balancing enrollment is the only way we’re going to get there.)

Finally, we’re hearing talk of “equity of access,” which sounds pretty darned close to the “equity of opportunity” I’ve been calling for.

The significant question about “access” is whether we will continue to have a two-tiered secondary school system — comprehensive middle and high schools for the wealthier half of the city and K8s and “small schools” high schools for the rest — or whether we’re going to work toward eliminating the ability to know the wealth of a neighborhood by the type of school you find there.

Smith is taking the first steps on the path to what I call equity; to that end, her staff, “by the end of this school year, … will define the core educational program to be offered at each of our high school campuses, as well as a plan to fund it within existing resources.”

You have to assume this will be a pretty low bar, as it has been with K8s. (The minimum 6-8 curriculum being defined for the K8 transition is significantly less than what was already available at every middle school in Portland before the K8 conversion.) But we’ve got to guarantee that students are at least able to graduate with the classes available, something that isn’t necessarily possible at some of Portland’s poorest high schools, a problem aggravated by the district’s rigid implementation of the “small schools” model at Madison High School, for example.

Nevertheless, these implementation details, along with a continued focus on assessment, do not detract from the fact that Carole Smith is on the right track in significant, broad stroke ways.

Talking about high schools before talking about facilities. Talking about “equity of access”. Talking about where students live (as opposed to where they’ve transferred to) as a critical element in the design of the high school system.

It’s easy to point to missed opportunities to take immediate action and show a real commitment to equity of opportunity: Madison High, K8s, Libraries, etc. But it seems to me the winds have shifted, and if we actually put some of Carole Smith’s words into bold action, we’re going to see a turn-around from the laissez-faire, two-tiered, self-segregated “system” of education we currently have.

Then it just becomes a question of urgency. Every year we wait, we lose another class of students.

It wouldn’t hurt if the school board put a little more wind at Carole Smith’s back in this regard.

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

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PPS starting the school year off with a…

Tomorrow marks a significant milestone for Portland Public Schools, as Carole Smith begins her second school year at PPS, the first with her own budget. It’s not clear yet how she (and the board’s budget committee) did.

Fortunately, Smith gave us some key points on which to gauge progress.

On the day her hire was announced Smith said “Jefferson’s going to be great.” Her staff solicited “proof points” from the community last fall to be implemented this fall.

I suggested a dramatic increase in funding to immediately beef up schools like Jefferson (similar to Steve Buel’s suggestion here).

I have not yet heard whether this one-time arts magnet school has a music teacher this year, or a world language other than Spanish. There was also talk of adding AP classes. (Any reports from the Jefferson community would be appreciated.)

I do know the middle and high schoolers at Jefferson’s Young Women’s Academy still do not have a staffed library. Likewise the students of the academies at the Marshall High School campus, whose principal does not think students need library staff in the Internet age (librarians, please don’t throw things at your computer while reading this).

Speaking of libraries, another huge challenge to Smith was getting the K-8 transition out of crisis mode. By early summer, many parent concerns had been addressed, and the focus of concern came down to libraries. At the district’s last accounting, nearly a third of K-8 schools completely lack library staff. I know at least one of them has hired some part-time non-certified staff, but what about the others?

Carole Smith did not explicitly set out to reform the small schools at Madison, but the issue came up and forced her hand. Were this fall’s Madison students allowed to fill out their schedules with classes across the small schools walls?

David Colton’s involuntary transfer was — kind of — rescinded, but even he calls it a “Pyrrhic victory at best.” Whether or not students are still constrained to academic silos will be the true test of what kind of victory this is for them.

And while we’re on the topic of Madison, middle grades and libraries, 88 eighth graders start at Madison High tomorrow, and the school has lost its library assistant. They’re holding a fundraiser to get the position back. Also, word is that the Madison eighth grade academy has a severe shortage of clerical staff to register new eighth grade students who start school tomorrow, many without schedules.

On the eve of the 2008-09 school year, the jury is still out on whether we’re starting with a bang or a fizzle, but some preliminary signs look troubling. Please post your experiences here, or e-mail them privately if you prefer (steve at ppsequity dot org).

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

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Defining equity

The biggest problem with Carole Smith’s “equity administration” is that no leaders in Portland Public Schools are willing to define a base level of curriculum that every child is entitled to, in every neighborhood school.

This is fundamental to working toward equity.

Without this definition, district leaders are free to talk about equity at every opportunity, but can avoid actually taking meaningful steps toward it.

Equity immediately achievable

This much is true: it is immediately possible, with available funding, to offer equal educational opportunity in every neighborhood school, simply by having kids go to school in their neighborhoods.

I’m not talking about cookie cutter schools, or replicating programs like Benson in every neighborhood. I’m talking about every child guaranteed an education with a common K-12 core curriculum, ideally including library, music, art, science, math, language arts, social studies, health and world languages.

This is what our neighbors in Beaverton get, through a combination of an extremely strict transfer policy, relatively large schools, and a clearly defined core curriculum. You can walk into any neighborhood school in Beaverton and find a common level of what PPS calls “enrichment,” regardless of the income level or ethnic makeup of the neighborhood.

Contrast this with Portland, where schools vary dramatically, and race, income and address are the best predictors of the kind of opportunity available to students.

We don’t need 2000-student high schools to do this, but we clearly can’t do it in 600-student high schools with the existing funding formula.

While the size of Beaverton’s schools may rankle many idealists, I personally would rather have a large institution with smaller and more classes than a smaller institution with larger and fewer classes.

Details can vary, of course. But we must have a centrally-defined core curriculum, or we will never see equity. And we need to return to neighborhood-based enrollment to achieve the economy of scale necessary to pay for this.

Baby steps not working

Ask yourself how much equity we’ve gotten since it was declared the “over-arching” goal of current leadership.

So far, the “baby steps” approach has seen continued enrollment drains and FTE cuts in our poorest schools. There has been neither talk nor action on addressing the enrollment drain, i.e. the transfer policy, or the FTE cuts, i.e. the staffing formula.

Our schools continue to become more segregated, with dramatic differences in curriculum between white, middle class schools and poor and minority schools. These differences become especially stark and intolerable at the secondary level.

Poor and minority middle school students are disproportionately likely to be assigned to PK8 schools, where they are more likely to be deprived of libraries (nearly a third of PK8 schools completely lack library staff) and the kind of curriculum breadth available at comprehensive middle schools, where white, middle class students are more likely to be assigned (and which all have at least some library staff).

This pattern continues in high school, with white, middle class students generally assigned to comprehensive schools with broad curriculum, and poor and minority students overwhelmingly assigned to “small schools” with far less opportunity.

District leaders refuse action for fear of alienating middle class

By taking the transfer policy off the table, leaders seem to have convinced themselves that we can’t afford a common curriculum. To speak of it would be to acknowledge that we indeed have the means to solve the equity crisis, but won’t, for fear harming the neighborhoods that benefit when district policy siphons enrollment, funding and opportunity out of North, Northeast and outer Southeast Portland.

This unspoken fear — that we will alienate a few hundred middle class white families if we take bold steps toward equity — is unfounded and ironic, especially considering the number of families I personally know who have pulled their children from PPS, or plan to for secondary school, precisely because they cannot receive a fair shake in their neighborhood schools.

It is unethical to maintain current policy based on this fear. How can we deprive at least half of our students of opportunity to benefit the other half?

I don’t believe there is anybody currently on the school board who has both the conviction and the courage — it takes both — to come to the table with policy proposals that will even begin to address this issue.

Terry Olson is right; we need to start working toward electing three strong leaders to school board zones four, five and six in May. We need bold leadership in times of crisis, and we’re not getting it from the current crop of school board directors.

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

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A giant step

It is time for the Portland School Board to step up and take a giant step toward district-wide equity.

For the last couple of years they have only been willing to take baby steps, and anyone who ever played “mother may I” in their childhood knows baby steps are not enough.

A logical first step would be to add 12 FTE to each of the following high schools: Roosevelt, Jefferson, Madison, Marshall, and Benson. This money could only be used to increase the curricular offerings in these schools (including maintaining a certificated librarian). The increased offerings should begin to strengthen the comprehensive nature of the school and thus attract students back to their own neighborhood school and help Benson begin to regain its previously well-deserved reputation.

The cost? About $5,000,000 I presume. The money would come from the money which would follow the returning students, the contingency fund (if the lack of curricular offerings and degradation of these schools doesn’t fit the definition of an emergency then I don’t know what will), the other places a good superintendent can find money in a $400,000,000+ budget, some grant money, and donations.

The superintendent and the school board need to either commit to having equitable and good high schools or find some other school district to administer. And they need to show their commitment with giant steps, not baby and backwards ones.

Notice this proposal skirts what is often referred to as the catch 22 of the transfer process — less kids equals less curricular offerings which means less kids which means less curricular offerings etc. A school board which allows its educational policy to be controlled by a bureaucratic catch 22 needs to reread the book — catch 22′s are to be fixed, not applauded.

Mother may I…….

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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Adkins on libraries: baby steps

Thanks to reader gp who points out Ruth Adkins’ Tribune op-ed published yesterday.

Ruth clearly describes the issue, which disproportionately affects low-income students. And she correctly characterizes the district’s moves to address the crisis as “baby steps.”

Libraries are a priority going forward, writes Adkins, and will be more fully addressed in next spring’s budget.

It is clear the school board fails to see this as a crisis needing immediate attention.

So yet another class of thousands of PPS students will be added to those who have already been denied library staff through crucial years of school.

Libraries remain the critical unfunded element of the ongoing PK8 crisis, but the school board has placed higher priority on spending $1.2 million on new text books for middle schoolers than on providing them with library staff.

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

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PPS Equity 2007-08 retrospective

The 2007-08 PPS school year heard lots of talk of equity, but no common vision has emerged for what that means or how we can get there.

Things started on a cautiously optimistic high note with the hiring from within of Carole Smith, whose staff started saying the right things about equity.

The school year built to a climax with the mayor’s week at Jefferson in January, but the wind started to come out of the sails with a new budget that brings further staffing cuts at schools in poor neighborhoods. Questions remain about the district’s commitment to “proof points” at Jefferson, such as merging the academies, to say nothing of restoring the performing arts department or restoring AP classes.

Questions about the PK-8 transition bubbled up and led to Smith’s first encounter with an angry mob. She responded with an action team. Some of the biggest holes are plugged, but PK-8 remains in crisis, still short library staff for eight schools.

In the end, we still don’t know: What defines equity? There have been no changes to the policies most responsible for inequity (open transfers and the school funding formula). Worse, the district seems fixed in a mindset that they can guarantee outcomes for children affected by poverty. But this mindset has subjected our poorest children to less educational depth and breadth, and can only accelerate out-transfers of those better off.

The longer they try to deliver “equity” like this, the more inequitable things have gotten.

Ultimately, the only path to equity is equal opportunity and balanced enrollment. That is (like I said in September), we’ve got to define a comprehensive curriculum (including arts, libraries, technology, etc.) and deliver it in every neighborhood school, and we’ve got to talk about the transfer policy in the detail requested by the Flynn-Blackmer audit, issued two years ago this month.

September 2007

Report on transfer policy and neighborhood funding inequity presented to school board

I present the school board and interim superintendent Ed Schmitt the first draft of my report Charting Open Transfer Enrollment and Neighborhood Funding Inequities (261KB PDF). The report details how the district’s transfer and enrollment policy takes significant funding from our poorest neighborhoods — over $40 million in 2006-2007 — and hands it to our wealthiest neighborhoods. The poorest school clusters — Jefferson, Madison, Marshall and Roosevelt — continue with disproportionate program cuts as enrollment and funding flow to more affluent neighborhoods. Schools in wealthier neighborhoods effectively maintain comprehensive programming at the expense of our poorest citizens.

PPS changes policy to allow corporate advertising in school gyms

Before Carole Smith is hired, the school board votes to allow the Trail Blazers to “donate” the refinishing of our ten high school gym floors in exchange for the placement of permanent corporate ads. Dwight Jaynes loves the idea, others do not. Rick Seifert (of Red Electric fame) inspires the nickname Dwight “Burgerville” Jaynes.

October 2007

Smith hired from within

Bucking a trend of hiring administrators from outside of the district, the school board surprises many by hiring Carole Smith from within. Smith wastes no time setting high expectations, saying “Jefferson’s going to be great.”

District low-balls rehired custodians

Opening negotiations with their rehired custodians, PPS offers a 30% pay cut.

District data show transfer policy aggravates segregation

In advance of board discussion on the transfer policy, administrators present data showing the segregation caused by the transfer policy.

City offers million dollar band-aid to district’s 40 million dollar problem

Erik Sten‘s Bureau of Housing and Community Development offers Portland schools a million dollars to to “create excitement.” Excitement fails to materialize.

November 2007

Board dances around transfer issue, takes no action to balance enrollment

The school board finally gets around to talking about its transfer policy, a year and a half after auditors asked for clarification. They artfully avoid answering city and county auditors’ questions about racial and economic segregation caused by its policy.

December 2007

Board rejects all four charter applications

Possibly signaling a new attitude, the school board rejects four charter school applications.

New Administration makes positive rumblings about “Equity”

Carole Smith’s administration starts saying the right thing about equity.

January 2008

Mayor Potter comes to Jefferson

The school board comes, too, and is met with a parade of students speaking eloquently about the lack of rigorous and varied course offerings available to them. The Jefferson High School PTSA presents the school board with their comprehensively damning resolution calling for an end to the transfer policy that has devastated the schools in our poorest neighborhoods. I put in my two cents worth, too, addressing the intolerable inequity created by the board’s transfer policy.

The whole scene is repeated Wednesday, when the City Council meets at Jefferson. In addition to the students and PTSA members, city council candidate and Wilson High parent Amanda Fritz addresses the council about the glaring differences between her daughter’s school and Jefferson. I speak of the school district and city working at cross purposes.

The week wraps up with the mayor’s state of the city address to the City Club on Friday, with club members getting a tour of Jefferson’s half-empty library, and the mothballed metal shop, TV studio and band room.

The entire week leaves the Jefferson community buoyed by a sense of hope and possibility. How could a city like Portland tolerate such glaring inequity?

February 2008

PPS Equity launched

It seems like it’s been a lot longer, but I just launched this site in February.

The last “Celebration!”

PPS holds its last “meat market” school choice fair.

PK8 comes to a boil

Two years after a rushed decision to eliminate middle schools (in some neighborhoods; the west side gets to keep theirs, evidently) parents come together to demand a better deal for their middle-school children.

Custodians stave off 30% pay cut

Custodians and food service workers are made to feel good about taking a 3-year wage freeze.

Ivy charter withdraws application

With the board poised to approve their application on appeal (with some modifications), the organizers of the Ivy Charter School withdraw at the last minute. The other three applications in the cycle were rejected and did not appeal.

Smith’s first budget: where’s the equity?

Carole Smith’s first budget makes a few tentative steps toward equity, but does nothing to balance enrollment or help schools hardest hit by the transfer policy.

March 2008

Smith forms PK8 action team

Two years after beginning implementation, the district decides to start planning for it.

April 2008

Deep cuts to poor schools

As community members start to study the budget, deep cuts are discovered at our poorest schools, putting the lie to the “overarching” goal of equity.

Gates “small schools” make no progress

Touted as a salve for the “achievement gap,” our poorest schools were carved up into academies. New data show these schools continue to have the worst dropout rates in Portland.

May 2008

Jefferson Students walk out, protest lack of progress

Frustrated at staffing cuts, and a continuing lack of breadth and depth in course offerings, Jefferson students walk out, demanding curriculum, teachers, AP classes, language classes, College Center, and
other programs.

School board funds new books for middle schoolers, even as many schools lack library staff

Some parents question the timing and priority of the move.

PK8 team addresses some concerns

PK8 schools get some basic guarantees, but district won’t commit to library staff for nearly a third of PK8 schools. Transition remains in crisis, but at a lower boil.

June 2008

Madison students walk out, decry “small schools”

Protesting the anticipated “involuntary transfer” of a highly-regarded counselor, around 50 Madison High School students walk out, also citing discontent with the “small schools” model that has them constrained in narrow academic silos.

Oregonian covers small schools

In an A1 story in the Sunday Oregonian, reporters Betsy Hammond and Lisa Grace Lednicer write about the failure of the Gates-funded “small schools” to bridge the “achievement gap.”

But it is quixotic to form policy around outcomes, as former PPS school board member Steve Buel has pointed out.

Over the summer

Teachers and students get summer vacation, but the school board never sleeps. They meet all summer, and three of them will be entering the final year of their term (Henning, Ryan and Sargent). Will the transfer policy be addressed in a meaningful way? Will we finally figure out how to talk about high schools, school mergers (closures) and facilities, all in one fell swoop? Will anybody present a vision for what PPS will look like in five years? Stay tuned….

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

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Edging away from PK8 crisis mode

At the PK8 Action Team meeting last night, district staff had at least some good news for parents and concerned community members.

The biggest news was a commitment to provide age-appropriate library materials for all PK8 libraries, and staff over the summer to enter the books into the catalog system and put them on the shelves. But we still have eight schools without library staff.

It was also announced that each school would have two computer labs by one year from now.

Age-appropriate library materials and technology were two critical items identified in a petition published earlier this week, and it is gratifying to no longer have to fight for them.

But the lack of library staff at eight of our 30 PK8 schools means that a large number of students will continue to be denied basic educational resources. Until this gap is funded, the PK8 transition remains in crisis.

Adding to the confusion, the PK8 Action Team still hasn’t provided a comprehensive accounting of the funding gap. It is rumored that many of the facilities issues (restrooms, etc.) will be addressed, but there were many operational funding gaps presented at the last meeting that have not been categorized as “one-time” or “ongoing,” and there has not been a comprehensive, school-by-school list of needs.

In order to provide this accounting, the district must first define what constitutes a minimally adequate educational environment for middle schoolers. I requested this at the meeting last night, but I’m not entirely optimistic that we will get it.

This is, of course, a district-wide issue, not just PK8. But until we can define and guarantee a minimum level, we will continue to see gross inequities across our district.

Now that we seem to be edging away from crisis mode in the PK8 transition, perhaps we can talk about the looming strategic issues. I’m still not convinced that the district is fully committed to making PK8 work, or that we have an economically sustainable and educationally adequate model for our middle schoolers, especially at our smaller schools.

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

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Publishers vs. librarians: PPS chooses publishers

In an unsurprising vote Monday night, the PPS Board of Education moved to spend $1.2 million on middle school history materials, the first such adoption in over 20 years.

I differ with some of my activist cohorts on the degree to which standardization is necessary to ensure equity (I’m pleased the district is moving toward more standardization in general, though I have doubts about the kind of “canned” curriculum we’ve just committed to purchasing). But these differences aside, we can agree that something we’ve dealt with for twenty years, for better or worse, does not constitute a crisis for our middle school students.

Nearly half of our middle school students are in crisis, though. In recent conversations with parents from the Roosevelt, Madison, Jefferson and Grant clusters about the PK-8 conversion, it is clear that the lack of full funding for this transition is causing irreparable harm to an entire cycle of middle schoolers at PPS.

This is the emergency situation that needs the school board’s attention and funding, not the curriculum-in-a-box we just dropped $1.2 million on.

At the top of the list of unfunded operational needs are libraries. The budget, as approved two weeks ago, is short three to five full-time-equivalent (FTE) positions for librarians, and does not provide for appropriate middle school materials in the elementary schools that now must serve middle schoolers.

It also does not provide funding to guarantee computer labs, age-appropriate restroom facilities, lockers or white boards, among other things.

Just to start filling these basic needs, based on documentation provided by the district, would cost around $1.6 million. (It will surely be more, as the district gets a better accounting of the state of all schools.) This does not even begin to address the lack of FTE budget to offer any kind of depth in electives, after school programs or arts education.

To fully address the immediate, critical PK-8 operational funding deficit would probably cost many times this amount (I guestimate $3-6 million, which would still not cover the FTE needed to provide real breadth and depth of curriculum in the smaller PK-8 schools), but we’ve got to start plugging these critical holes now.

When I addressed the school board Monday night, I asked them to postpone the 6-8 social studies curriculum adoption for one year, and instead use this $1.2 million to start closing the gap in PK-8 operational funding.

Nicole Leggett and Michele Schultz have together identified several other sources to fully fund the PK-8 transition:

  • Cap administrative wages for one year. (All non-represented district level and principals etc.) Savings: $1.18 million
  • Reallocate Non-Instructional Personal Professional Services Fund. Savings up to $3.63 million.
  • Reallocate to spend Internal Services Contingency Fund. Savings up to $3 million.
  • Spend from the reserve.

The point is that this constitutes a real emergency for our children. New text books, which we have lived without for 20 years, are not as critical as well-stocked, fully-staffed libraries and age-appropriate facilities.

In board discussion before the vote, it was suggested that adopting this new curriculum and staffing libraries can proceed on separate tracks. But we’re not proceeding with libraries, and we are proceeding with this text book adoption.

There is a real disconnect between the school board and the parents I’ve been conversing with. The board does not have a sense of urgency to get the PK-8 transition right. Carole Smith has assembled a smart, experienced team to plan and implement the transition (two years after it began, but that’s not her fault). But they can only do so much without full funding.

What I suspect is that the board is hedging until they are forced to acknowledge the obvious: those who supported the PK-8 transition are now in a minority on the board, and there is significant doubt as to whether this model can deliver a comprehensive middle school education in a cost-effective manner.

With most PK-8 schools having fewer than 100 middle school students, and the superintendent’s staff acknowledging a need for more like 180-200 students to do it right, it’s clear we’re on a collision course with reality.

As much as I’d like to take that strategic issue head-on, we’re not changing course for the coming school year. Meanwhile we have thousands of middle schoolers who will not have access to libraries, computer labs and age-appropriate restrooms in the coming school year.

It’s time to stop asking the children to pay for the mistakes of adults. Instead of sending $1.2 million to text book publishers, we should be using it to hire the librarians we need, and stock their libraries.

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

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