The school board fiddles

8:01 am

Here’s Monday nights agenda for the Portland School Board:


    • MESD 2007-2008 Annual Report (information item)

  5. OTHER BUSINESS 7:00 pm

    • Council of Great City Schools Annual Conference (information item)

  6. ADJOURN 7:10 pm

So the school board can only find 40 minutes of work that needs to be done? Or should I say 40 minutes of reports to receive. This is in a school district which spends hundreds of millions of dollars of citizens’ taxes, which is beset by problems ranging from incredible school inequity, massive economic problems on the horizon, disastrous maintenance deficits, serious teacher hiring malpractices, rampant school discipline problems, incredible numbers of dropouts, a TAG program which desperately needs to be revamped, a k-8 curriculum which is the envy of no one, a student transfer program which is further segregating the school district, schools which are inundated with a culture of testing instead of education (no offense to those educators who are fighting this), schools without libraries or librarians, huge numbers of kids who can’t read or do basic math, and a myriad of other serious problems. 40 minutes?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know that Superintendent Carol Smith has begun to address many of these problems and the school board does a lot of work in committees. They are good people who care about Portland and its children. But that is not enough. The school board is elected to lead, to solve problems, and work for the best educational programs it can. It needs real public input, serious public discussions about directions to take, resolutions put forth to address problems which are debated openly and sold to the public and the school district’s employees, real leadership which garners genuine support and confidence. Leadership that continues to move us in a new direction where all kids are important and which looks at education in Portland as something more than a referendum on programs which arise out of some hazy educational research done somewhere by someone for some reason we don’t understand, and which we then push on our teaching staff eating up their time in meetings instead of having them be further engaged in the teaching process.

So I call on each school board member to bring their resolutions to the table. This is the time. November and the first part of December are a slow time in education. A good time to make some progress. A good time to look at those problems which are beginning to fester. A good time to discuss those problems which need to be addressed by our city’s educational leaders –- you, the board.

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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.

filed under: Equity, Facilities, K-8 Transistion, Labor Relations, School Board, Segregation, Standardized Testing, Transfer Policy

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5 Responses

  1. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Just to add a few things to the list of festering problems:

    • ELL (currently under investigation by the US Dept. of Ed. Office of Civil Rights for Title VI violations)
    • high school design (wasn’t there going to be a citizen’s committee for this?)
    • a pending facilities bond without a facilities plan (which hinges on the high school design)

    You mentioned K8 curriculum, which was supposedly a priority last spring. But community meetings have stopped (there was supposed to be a meeting at the end of the summer), and the district does not appear to have a single staff member on the “K8 Action Team” full-time. This would be a great time for board members, particularly those who believe all clusters need a 6-8 option, to give the superintendent and her staff a big push on this.

    So far, Carole Smith has talked a good game on equity, but the board has failed to challenge her to do better. Applauding her speech at the City Club isn’t enough.

  2. Comment from David Wynde:

    The board is meeting for several hours in executive session on Monday night immediately after the short school board meeting to discuss contract negotiations with PAT. Not a short night, Steve.

  3. Comment from Steve Buel:

    David, thank you for pointing out my missing the executive session on contract negotiations. It was never my intention to suggest that the school board members are not extremely hard working and spend huge amounts of time giving to Portland’s children and the communtiy. That is the case.

    I apologize if that was the impression. The post was meant to point out the lack of attention given in public school board meetings to discussing and debating serious problems facing PPS and the lack of response to public discussion of these issues. School board meetings have become over the years more information sessions for the board than the public legislative sessions they should be designed to be.

  4. Comment from David Wynde:


    Thanks for the clarification. I was responding to your point about the board only spending 40 minutes on business on Monday. I understand your point about reports versus discussion of issues of substance.

    Sometimes the more substantive discussions take place in other forums – many of which are open to the public but not as closely watched as board meetings. I understand the downside to that: we have to balance out the challenge of getting work done as well as public communication and transparency. In the case on Monday, we have private discussions about bargaining because we have to, as I know you understand.

  5. Comment from Steve Buel:

    David, one thing that would help in transparency would be if the board would take a different tact on public input at board meetings. It would not hurt to comment or ask questions where pertinent on the three minute comments by the public. Yes, it takes a little more time, but as any good relationship counselor knows you aren’t really seen as listening without giving some affirmation (a word I hate but fits here). And it is a relationship issue between the board and the public.

    Another idea would be to have a short status report on issues the board is addressing in other forums. “Here is what is taking place this month — we are creating a committee to address the student transfer process. Questions which need addressing are the following 1,2, 3, ….The members of the committee are nearly selected. If you have comments or ideas concerning these issues address them to ….” etc.

    Note, the idea here is not to report to the public, but to show the problems are being addressed. Of course, there is the minor detail that many of the problems, partcularly in poor neighborhoods, aren’t being recognized and addressed as I am sure you are aware. The squeaky wheels in the upper income neighborhoods still get the grease and the wheels in many of PPS’s poorer neighborhoods are either too busy trying to get by or are perpetuating a weaker interest in education as an important part of their lives to squeak loud enough to be heard all the way to the Blanchard center.

    In my opinion, without significent change in how the board addresses problems the coming economic crisis will send PPS schools spiraling even farther downhill in Portland’s economically poorer neighborhoods.