Category: Labor Relations

Madison teachers vote no confidence in principal, small schools

In a move teachers’ union president Jeff Miller calls “extremely rare,” Madison teachers have voted “no confidence” in their principal.

This is another blow against the Gates Foundation’s “small schools” model, which, under former superintendent Vicki Phillips, was implemented exclusively in Portland’s lowest income high schools: Jefferson, Madison, Marshall and Roosevelt.

Evidence continues to roll in showing this model is failing by virtually all measures to achieve its goals, and instead robs our poorest students of equal educational opportunity and accelerates the outflow of students and their funding from these schools.

Yet PPS, under new superintendent Carole Smith, has demonstrated no serious intention of returning comprehensive high schools to these neighborhoods. And there seems to be no thought of shifting the “small schools” model to a “small learning community” model, as proposed by educator and activist Terry Olson.

As with the PK8 transition, another serious mess left by Vicki Phillips, half of PPS high schools remain in serious crisis, and Carole Smith’s administration takes only tentative, superficial steps to address foundational design defects.

At some point the school board needs to assert some leadership. They need to define what constitutes a comprehensive education, and guarantee it in every neighborhood school. Until they take that fundamental step, talk of equity is meaningless and the district remains in turmoil.

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


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.


Custodians and Food Service Workers Reach Agreement

SEIU Local 503 appears to have reached a tentative agreement with Portland Public Schools that would preserve custodians’ wages and give food service workers a modest cost of living increase. It also appears that the district will be contributing more toward health benefits.

The union’s happy, the district’s happy, but one question remains: If everybody’s so happy, why did the district play hardball for nine months, insisting on draconian cuts up until the very last mediation session? Couldn’t we have settled right away and used that $55,973.87 we spent on the union busting law firm Barran Liebman in the classroom instead?

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


20 Questions: Key Research Needed Before the Facilities Bond

Neighborhood Schools Alliance members Lynn Schore and Steve Linder contributed to this report.

In the past few months there have been numerous newspaper articles about the deplorable state of Portland Public Schools (PPS) school buildings and the potential bond needed for covering a $1.4 billion bill for repairs and construction. Before the PPS School board makes any decisions on a bond or major facilities initiatives, some critical questions need to asked and answered. Here is a start for that list of questions.

Facilities plans

Despite the fact that two extensive facilities reports were done in the last 8 years (Long Range Facility Plan and the KPMG study) PPS paid Magellan K-12, a consultant company from Texas, nearly 1 million dollars to perform a complete facilities assessment. Magellan is a driving force behind the proposed 1.4 million dollar facilities tab and the need for a bond. The full Magellan plan is unavailable to the public.

1. Why did PPS pick Magellan?
2. Why is the Magellan plan unavailable to the public?
3. If Magellan K-12 claims to have a vision for “21st Century” schools why does their website state that their last publications and conference workshops were in 1998 and 1999?
3. Does Magellan have any ties to any PPS employees, in particular do they have any ties to Cathy Mincberg, PPS’s Chief Financial Officer who is from Houston?
4. What was wrong with the last two major facilities plans?


In Houston, a few days after a bond was passed, a group of families along with a state legislator filed a legal challenge in federal court. “In the federal lawsuit, the families allege that HISD provides inferior academic programs and facilities for schools in predominantly black and other minority communities. The lawsuit also accuses HISD of violating the Federal Voting Rights Act and the Texas Open Meetings Act.” –Houston Chronicle

5. Did Magellan consult for Houston Independent school District on their latest bond?
6. How is the PPS and our School Board going to insure that funds for facility construction and repairs are distributed in an equitable fashion, and provide quality facilities for all students?


A December 15, 2007 article in The Oregonian states that the expected 1.4 billion dollar tab is for 89 school campus and 14 administrative offices and then at the same time says the bond is for 311 “PPS buildings”. The study cited in the article compares our buildings to suburban districts which were built more recently.

7. What makes up the difference between the 311 PPS buildings and the 103 schools and offices?
8. Are trailers included in that total?
9. How do PPS facilities compare to other urban districts?

Rosa Parks as a model for the future

The board and Foundation call Rosa Parks their model for future school building. Yet Rosa Parks started as a K-8 during construction, went to K-6 for its first year and now is being converted to a K-5. Many schools surrounding Rosa Parks were closed. The building is at 105% capacity right now, and middle schoolers will need to be bussed all the way to George. (Their former middle school, Portsmouth, was converted to K-8, and doesn’t have space.)

10. What assurance does that public have that future planning will be based on sound data?

More closures

Big bonds like this in other cities have resulted in disruption, closures, and consolidations.
11. Are closures anticipated before 2010?
12. Will closures and consolidations be a part of any new construction?
13. What buildings and properties will be permanently lost (sold) to pay for this 1.4 billion dollar bill?

Selling the bond

Numerous local newspaper articles have appeared since October regarding PPS facilities.

14. What is the public relations budget for this bond?
15. Has PPS made any specific efforts to “sell it”?

Building Maintenance and PPS Workers

Custodian and maintenance had to fight to maintain current wages or get basic cost of living increases; the skilled trades workforce, including carpenters, plumbers, and electricians, has been drastically reduced; the entire custodian staff was fired illegally, and maintenance budget has been reduced so that only emergency repairs are being done.

16. Wouldn’t it make better sense to take care of our existing buildings by increasing the maintenance and custodial forces?
17. What is the PPS maintenance and repair budget?
18. What is the maintenance plan for the infrastructure, especially the boilers?

Establishing Trust

Whitaker Middle School was closed many years ago amid promises to build a new school for that neighborhood. Students were initially bussed 7 miles each way to Tubman, and are now bussed to Ockley Green or dispersed among other neighborhood K-8 schools.

19. Will the promises to the community around Whitaker be fulfilled?

Citizen input and truly democratic decision-making

The citizen oversight committee includes representatives from corporations and corporate groups, including PDC, PGE, Nike, and PacifiCorp.

20. Why is the “citizen” committee so heavily weighted by corporate representatives?

Portland parent activist Anne Trudeau helped found the Neighborhood Schools Alliance.


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