Chris Smith

City Commissioner #1

(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?

I attended the PPS Parent Leadership Conference at Benson on February 9th.

I was also at a City of Portland Community Budget Workshop at Alder Elementary (Reynolds district) in February.

2. Do you have any children or other relatives enrolled in Portland Public Schools?

I’m a step-parent, and my partner’s ex lives in Canby. Our kids split their time between Portland and Canby and most of their school career has been in the Canby system. Nonetheless we made the effort to participate in school activities, including one term when I volunteered weekly in my step-son’s computer class.

Even though our children did not attend any of the Portland districts, I’ve been a strong supporter of the public schools in Portland.

3. Did you attend Portland Public Schools?

No, I grew up on the east coast and arrived in our region 20 years ago.

4. …If elected, will you do anything to hold the school district accountable to the Flynn/Blackmer audit?

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?

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?

[Combined answer to 4,5 and 6]

School choice should be an important tool in achieving equity, not a motivator for disinvestment. City Council has no direct authority over this, but Council members do have the ability and obligation to speak out when the needs of our community are not being met.

I have been an advocate for healthy and sustainable neighborhoods for over a decade, and strong schools are a critical component of strong neighborhoods. I believe one of the key policy goals of the student transfer policy should be to STRENGTHEN neighborhood schools, not trigger disinvestment.

I am encouraged by the early work of the Schools-Families-Housing partnership, which works to support schools by prioritizing City investments in things like Housing, Parks and Transportation in ways that enhance the attractiveness or accessibility of schools. This helps maintain or grow student population which reduces the pressure to close or consolidate schools. As Commissioner I will support increased funding for those elements of the pilot project that are found to be effective in sustaining or growing student population.

7. If PPS puts forth a facilities bond of around a billion dollars, what will be your position on this election?

I am absolutely supportive of reinvesting in our school facilities, but would work to make sure this proposal is carefully coordinated with other City infrastructure investments before it gets to the ballot, so that we are sure that our redevelopment of these schools also supports important community goals like sustainability, neighborhood livability and housing opportunity and in turn is reinforced by other City investments.

8. What is the specific role of the City Council in helping children in the lower income neighborhoods of Portland?

The relationships are not always obvious, but City policy can make a big difference. For example, in speaking to the principal of Alder Elementary, I learned that even though they have the highest percentage of students in Portland qualifying for free or reduced lunches (a measure of poverty), they are able to get students performing at or near benchmark levels if the students are with them for three years. But in the lower grades, their student mobility is as high as 50% (i.e. half the students change schools each year) due to housing and employment instability. If the City is able to provide transitional assistance (for example, through the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness) that lets these families stay in a home through a job disruption or other hardship, the student outcomes will be much better.

Programs like SUN Schools and other after-school programs are also important ways that the City and County can help kids in our schools.

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 all local option measures, including the Multnomah County income tax. The community needs the ability to support education at a level that it determines is appropriate, not one dictated from Salem.

10. Do you have any other thoughts on the roll of city government in the governance of our public schools?

While the City does not directly govern schools, our community cannot be successful without good schools and good educational achievement and outcomes for all our students. The City needs to keep looking for opportunities to support these critical goals.

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