City Commissioner #2
(This is part of PPS Equity‘s Election ’08 coverage. Some questions are abbreviated here. Please see the main Election ’08 page for the full questions, the full list of candidates and election information.)
1. When was the last time you visited a public school in Portland? What was the purpose of your visit?
Today. I dropped off my children. Perhaps most importantly, last week I visited the offices of the David Douglas School District where, in my capacity as City Commissioner Erik Sten’s chief of staff, I met the superintendent. I took a tour of the site that the district hopes will become a new elementary school. The city is attempting to find money to invest in a community facility in David Douglas that could house a school, a Head Start Program and other needed services.
2. Do you have any children or other relatives enrolled in Portland Public Schools?
My two daughters attend PPS’ Sunnyside School.
3. Did you attend Portland Public Schools?
I grew up in San Jose, California. I attended public schools there. I attended the University of Oregon.
4. …If elected, will you do anything to hold the school district accountable to the Flynn/Blackmer audit?
My kids transferred into Sunnyside’s magnet program using the district’s lottery system. I’m glad we had that option. That said, as an elected member of the City Council I would have an obligation to step up when needed to help resolve important issues. For example, the City Council weighed in with the School District to help create an agreement between the district and its represented custodians and food service workers. While the district itself is in the best position to manage its system, leadership from the City Council can help stakeholders find agreement on issues important to our children and our community. I will use that leadership to help improve our schools. I will use that leadership to ensure all sides are heard and that progress is made. Most importantly, I will use that leadership to ensure that every neighborhood includes a great school.
5. …If elected, how will you work with the PPS Board of Education to ensure their policies do not work at cross purposes with city policies?
See my answer above about the transfer policy. Beyond that policy there is much the City Council can do to better align City and School District Policies. As chief of staff, I’ve helped manage Commissioner Sten’s Schools, Families, Housing Initiative. The Initiative seeks to link city investments in housing, transportation, and parks with the needs of all of Portland’s districts.
The initiative also provided resources to the Bureau of Planning to work directly with different schools to develop community-based plans that enhance livability for families near schools with declining enrollment. The initiative also created a million dollar grants program to help local communities develop stronger partnerships with their schools. The first grant awards will be announced in early April. Finally, the initiative provided rent and homeownership assistance to families to help them stay in Portland’s schools.
I will champion additional funds for this important work and will build on my existing relationship with all the city’s districts to ensure we are working together to improve our schools and our children’s’ and city’s future.
6. School closures and school facility decisions heavily affect the livability of the city. What is the role of the city council in
influencing these decisions?
Fundamentally, the city’s role is to create land use and zoning designations that support adequate, affordable housing for families with children. It also is the city’s role to provide the needed infrastructure and amenities that support family friendly neighborhoods. As part of the Portland Plan, I will fight to increase developer bonuses for family and affordable housing. I will link the investment of Parks system development charges to facilities near or adjacent to schools. I will prioritize transportation safety investments along school routes.
I also will ensure that the city’s planners work closely with all districts so everyone understands the likely population growth and trends in different neighborhoods. Just last month city staff — through the Schools, Families, Housing Initiative — provided development trend information to PPS that helped prevent a potential school closure. If the city and the districts work together we can avoid many closures and ensure that when closures must occur the reasons are well documented and understood by the community.
Finally, I believe there are opportunities to look at joint-use of several schools. The rising cost of housing in Portland’s inner neighborhoods has pushed many families east, where schools are overcrowded and the tax base is such that school bonds require a significantly higher increment for districts other than PPS. I will push hard to bring PPS and Portland’s eastside districts together to look at joint operating agreements that take best advantage of our existing facilities.
7. If PPS puts forth a facilities bond of around a billion dollars, what will be your position on this election?
It’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which I would not actively work to pass such a bond. I also will help pass bond measures in Portland’s eastside districts, where it is arguably more difficult to do so and where needs are also great.
8. What is the specific role of the City Council in helping children in the lower income neighborhoods of Portland?
The City Council must ensure there is adequate infrastructure in ALL of Portland’s neighborhoods, particularly infrastructure that supports schools. Parks, crosswalks, sidewalks, affordable housing, transit and other investments must be made in a way that ensures equity. The Council’s recent work to provide more flexibility in the use of urban renewal money is one way to help low-income neighborhoods.
A particular focus for the city must be affordable family housing. Hardworking families should be able to afford housing and still have enough money for groceries and other basic necessities. Children deserve an opportunity to succeed in school and life, which is tied to a stable home. I will fight to increase the city’s investments in affordable housing.
Another way the City Council can help is by assisting with home ownership. Providing education, loan assistance and other services to people is a great way to turn them from renters to homeowners. Although home ownership is not the only way to build wealth, it is an important way to do so. Ownership also helps families pass wealth from one generation to the next. The city’s Schools, Families, Housing Initiative provided a small amount of homeownership assistance. The Portland Development Commission and the Bureau of Housing and Community Development should investigate other opportunities to enhance home ownership.
The Council also must promote the retention and creation of family wage jobs. Increasing people’s incomes is important. I will support the creation of a city fund to help locally owned businesses grow. I also will support increased funding for the economic development programs at the Portland Development Commission and the Office of Sustainable Development.
The City Council also must be a better partner with Multnomah County. The County provides very important services to low-income people. The Council and the County Board should work to ignore jurisdictional boundaries and instead focus on the efficient delivery of services to low-income families. For example, through the Schools, Families, Housing Initiative, the city invested in the County’s Touchtone Program to provide rent assistance to families with school age children. The program provided short-term rent support to keep families in crisis from having to move and pull their kids out of school. There are many other areas where improved coordination with the County will benefit our low-income families.
9. …Would you support permanent city supplementary funding, or some kind of local option tax, to bring Portland school funding back to pre-Measure 5 levels?
I have supported every past local option and levy since moving to Portland in 1992. I will continue to support measures in the future. I also believe it’s time to revisit school funding in Salem. I know it will be difficult but communities across the state are suffering. I believe it’s time to consider an increase in the corporate income tax to provide more revenue for schools and other vital services and infrastructure.
10. Do you have any other thoughts on the roll of city government in the governance of our public schools?
I am proud to have helped implement the city’s Schools, Families, Housing Initiative. I’ve seen a lot of progress in the last year and a half. But.there is so much more to be done to align city and schools. A great city requires great schools. Great schools require great neighborhoods. Great neighborhoods require families. Families require affordable housing and kid-friendly amenities (like great schools). I will put my experience as Erik Sten’s chief of staff and as a leader of the Schools, Families, Housing Initiative to use on day one to build on our recent successes.