Carole Smith’s First Budget: Where’s the Equity?

I’m trying to see Carole Smith’s first budget in the best possible light. I know we don’t have the kind of funding needed to do things right. I also understand Smith’s desire to stabilize things. With those things considered, it’s nice to see a budget that doesn’t have any obvious cuts, and that actually adds some staffing to reduce kindergarten class sizes and restore some curriculum that was lost with the cuts of the ’90s and the switch to K-8.

But if you refer back to the superintendent’s presentation to the school board February 11 (296 KB PDF), a couple of salient points stand out. First, we’re apparently going to “examine everything through the lens of race and equity” from here on out.

Second, Smith quotes New Age business guru Meg Wheatley on integrity: “If we say one thing but do another, we create dissonance in the very space of the organization…What we lose when we fail to create consistent messages, when we fail to ‘walk our talk’ is not just personal integrity…we lose the partnership…that can help bring form and order to the organization.”

My thought at the time was that she is setting the bar very high for herself. Either people concerned with equitable distribution of public investment are going to be incredibly pleased, or they’re being set up for incredible disappointment.

So let’s examine her budget proposal through the lens of equity.

Two things jump right out at me.

  1. We are going full steam ahead on K-8 conversions, without clarifying the purpose of this conversion, and while maintaining middle school options in some clusters and not in others. This means that we are going further down an inequitable path. The fact that the budget will pay for algebra and library books at K-8s does not make up for the fact these schools will continue to have a vastly reduced middle school curriculum compared to traditional middle schools.
  2. The additional funding for “enrichment” in K-8 schools, while mandating three units a week a week of art, dance, theater, world language, music, or PE, continues to leave us with a confusing patchwork of offerings, and perpetuates the existing inequities. Schools that have little or no enrichment will get some, but schools that already have it will get more.

Requiring a prescribed amount of “enrichment,” chosen from a cafeteria of options by site administrators, perpetuates a system that effectively hides inequity.

We need a core pre-K-12 curriculum in art, music and PE across the board, not at the discretion of site administrators. And no school should have more “enrichment” than another.

We also need a comprehensive middle school option in every cluster, not just the wealthy ones.

Was this proposed budget reviewed through the lens of equity? If so, I’m not seeing it.

It is a fact that students affected by poverty need more investment, not less. Where in this budget are we investing in our poorest neighborhood schools? Why isn’t the extra “enrichment” money distributed in proportion to need rather than across the board? Why aren’t we guaranteeing free pre-K and full-day K to our poorest schools instead of maintaining the current patchwork? Will the budget include restoration of the music department at Jefferson High School, a putative arts magnet? Why aren’t we reopening Rose City Park instead of putting Madison cluster eighth graders at Madison High?

I’ve got a lot more questions; these are just the start.

I understand the budget process has just begun, and I’d like to be optimistic about our chances of moving toward equity. But I’m not seeing it in the first cut.

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