Category: School Closures

Dept. of lost and squandered millions

The amount of a $5.2 million federal grant lost by the Vicki Phillips administration is now approaching $2 million, according to the Willamette Week (where the story originally broke in September, 2007). The funding of the grant, which was intended to create magnet schools in the Jefferson cluster to ease segregation, was lessened by at least $1.7 million due to the rushed closures of Applegate and Kenton, and by poor grant management.

In separate news, the State of Oregon has been ordered to pay $3.5 million to a computer testing company for breach of contract.

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

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Jefferson YMA: its demise fortold?

PPS Equity has learned that staff in the Portland Public Schools transfer and enrollment office told the parents of at least one incoming 9th grader at the Jefferson Young Men’s Academy that the beleaguered academy would be closing.

“It’s not going to exist,” the family was told approximately two weeks before the start of the school year. It was strongly suggested that they should withdraw and go to one of the other schools where they’d been accepted.

The family, feeling like they had no choice, settled on their neighborhood high school, which the district employee told them “gets just as bad a rap as Jefferson,” so why not go there.

This could certainly explain why there were no incoming sixth graders at the Young Men’s Academy this year, if families were told to go elsewhere.

Were other incoming students told by transfer and enrollment to go elsewhere? If the district is planning to close the Young Men’s Academy, what does this say about their commitment to the 33 students who remain there? Were they also told their school would cease to exist? And what does this mean for the future of the Young Women’s Academy?

If we are giving up on the Young Men’s Academy, it is time to come clean for the good of the students. Slow death by strangulation can’t possibly be in anybody’s best interest.

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


A response to Carole Smith: Close the opportunity gap and the achievement gap will follow

In an e-mail sent to staff and some community members, Carole Smith expresses great enthusiasm and joy in her work on the first day of school. As a parent, I find this encouraging.

What I find discouraging is how she frames the issue of equity.

“…[W]ith every decision,” writes Smith, “we must ask ourselves about equity. All too often, a student’s family income and ethnicity predict his or her eventual success in school.”

This is true, sad, and terribly unjust.

But this defines equity exclusively in terms of outcomes. It omits two critical facts. The first is that as a school district, we control only a small portion of the inputs that lead to unequal outcomes.

Secondly, by focusing on outcomes, we conveniently avoid the inconvenient fact that a student’s race and income are also extremely accurate predictors of the wealth of curriculum and the level of teacher experience on offer at that student’s school.

The problem with striving for equity in outcomes is not that it’s a bad goal. It’s imperative that we improve things for our poorest students. The problem is that it is impossible for any school district to do this alone. We need a concerted federal, state and local anti-poverty program to make a serious dent in this problem.

“Closing the achievement gap” is a logical fallacy, in fact, and it’s perpetuated by the a breed of “reformers” we’re all familiar with: the Gates and Broad foundations, and our old friend Vicki Phillips. As they have pursued this false, unattainable goal, they have driven public investment out of Portland’s poor and minority neighborhoods and have set up schools for failure. This has led to increased out-transfers and decreased opportunity, and is a logical path to school closures. There can be no question that as a national movement, this is opening the door for more charter schools, and from there it’s just a small step to vouchers.

I don’t believe Carole Smith wants to convert our schools to charters or give out vouchers for private Christian schools. But I do believe her concept of equity is unduly influenced by those who are doing active harm to the institution of the common school.

It is a fundamental truth that we as a school district can never attain equity in terms of “success in school.”

Success, or “achievement,” are terms that boil down to extremely crude metrics (standardized tests and graduation rates), and they invariably have led to a narrower, shallower curriculum with a focus on “core” academics (numeracy and literacy) in Portland schools that serve disproportionate numbers of poor and minority students.

I’ve documented repeatedly how secondary students in the Jefferson, Madison, Marshall and Roosevelt clusters have been systematically robbed of comprehensive high schools (0 remain) and middle schools (3 remain). The predominately white, middle class students in the Cleveland, Grant, Lincoln and Wilson clusters have preserved their comprehensive high schools (all 4 remain) and middle schools (6 remain, including two each in the Wilson and Cleveland clusters).

It’s not hard to see how this reduction in the breadth and depth of curriculum would actually be detrimental to “achievement.”

Instead of tilting at windmills trying to shape outcomes while controlling only a small portion of the inputs that contribute to a student’s success or failure, Portland Public Schools needs to focus on the inputs it does control: equity of opportunity. This we can achieve, with existing funding, city-wide, today. We can end the equity “debate,” and I’ll gladly shut down this blog tomorrow, and start hammering on the state for better funding.

Let’s talk about equity in terms of not being able to tell the wealth of a neighborhood by the wealth of course offerings at the local high school.

Until we first see it in this light, and as a greater societal issue of poverty, it’s hard to take seriously the conflation of “equity” with the the logically false goal of “closing the achievment gap.”

Don’t get me wrong. I like Carole Smith, especially her energy, enthusiasm, and her desire to work with stakeholders to find solutions. She ends her e-mail with a quote from Ron Heifetz: “Solutions are achieved when ‘the people with the problem’ go through a process together to become ‘the people with the solution.'”

It is my goal to help our superintendent recognize the problem of approximately half of Portland as one of dramatically unequal opportunity. If you stand on the eastern boundary of PPS and look west, it’s hard to miss that students on the fringes of PPS (and of society) have been getting a progressively worse and worse deal as we strive to “close the achievement gap,” a process which has systematically widened the “opportunity gap.”

Instead of focusing on crudely measured outcomes, largely determined by inputs we have no control over, we need to focus on the inputs over which we have total control.

I firmly believe that if we first address the opportunity gap, gains in closing the achievement gap will follow.

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


High school closure talk starts… with Benson

Make no mistake, talk of converting Benson High School to a two-year, part-time CTE (Career Technical Education) center means that Benson is the first of Portland’s ten high schools to go on the chopping block.

District leaders have broadly hinted that they will close two high schools. If they convert Benson to a CTE center, would they only need to close one cluster school? Or are they considering closing two schools in addition to the Benson conversion? Any guesses which remaining high schools they would close or “merge”?

Logic, demographics and building conditions may indicate Lincoln and Wilson merging in a new facility. East side schools could rebuild or remodel, but continue to serve their neighborhoods (and be in place for the expected population boom coming in the next 15-20 years).

More likely, of course, they’re eyeballing east-side schools like Marshall and Madison for closures and mergers. Or Roosevelt and Jefferson. And rebuilding Wilson and Lincoln to the satisfaction of the west-side elites, of course, perhaps moving Lincoln and giving the land to Homer Williams in the process.

Get ready to fight for your high school, Portlanders.

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.


Time for an Honest Discussion About High Schools

After broadly hinting that we need to close two high schools in the press in January, Portland Public Schools abruptly pulled back from discussing the future of our existing ten high schools publicly.

The need to focus energy and resources on completing the questionable K-8 transition seemed to be the reason, but Beth Slovic at the Willamette Week published an e-mail yesterday that points to another reason.

The e-mail, from outside facilities consultant Bill DeJong, criticizes the leaders of Carole Smith’s high school team (not mentioned by name, but presumably Leslie Rennie Hill and John Wilhelmi) for not moving quickly enough toward the kind of change he would like to see — i.e. school closures.

Superintendent Smith sent an e-mail last evening explaining that the high school discussion and facilities discussion are on separate tracks. It is a reasonable position, worth supporting in the face of outside consultants who would rush us toward school closures.

“The work is urgent, but it must not be frenetic or imposed quickly upon the community to meet an artificial timeline. Any changes will require community vetting and ownership, as well as thoughtful planning before implementation; this much we have learned from past school closures and reconfiguration,” wrote Smith.

Smith acknowledges that our “liberal transfer policy” has a role in some high schools sitting “half empty, while others are bursting.”

She also responds indirectly to DeJong’s criticism: “Decisions about the size and location of our high school buildings, while important, will come as the result of this strategy. The buildings cannot drive the strategy. For that reason, and very consciously, I have asked the Portland School Board not to include our high schools in this winter’s facilities discussions.”


So let’s talk about high schools.

I’m willing to accept that we would be better off with fewer high schools. Eight high schools would give us an average size of about 1,400, enough to fund a full curriculum. (All five of Beaverton’s neighborhood high schools have more than 2,000 students.)

There are a couple preconditions I would like to add to the conversation, in addition to the “buildings cannot drive the strategy” bit.

  1. Siting of schools must be based on where students live, not where they’ve transfered.
  2. Comprehensive highs must be the centerpiece of our high school strategy. This is key to equity. These schools must be available to all students, in the neighborhoods where they live. Special focus options should be centrally located, like Benson, and as is done in districts like Beaverton. They should not be co-located with neighborhood programs, and definitely not substitute for comprehensive schools in poor neighborhoods.
  3. The “liberal transfer policy” must be examined in light of equalizing programming across the district.
  4. Siting must not be influenced in any way by the commercial value of the land of existing facilities.

Smith closes her e-mail, “It’s high time to have that conversation, and I hope you will join us.”

I couldn’t agree more. Maybe the first step is to fire the outside consultants who don’t seem to get that we want and orderly process. The next step is to lay all the cards on the table. Anybody who’s paid attention knows that we’re talking about closing at least two high schools.

Let’s get it all out in the open.

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


On the Same Page with the Oregonian

You won’t hear me say that very often, but with Friday’s editorial, “Firing up the bulldozers”, the Oregonian’s editorial board correctly questions whether Portland Public Schools should “reverse course on any recent program changes to avoid costly fixes or unnecessary facilities upgrades.”

The O cites the hasty reconfiguration started by “Hurricane” Vicki Phillips, the inadequacy of many former elementary school buildings to handle K-8 schools, and the temporary housing of eighth graders at Madison High as reasons to rethink things before committing to radical, long-lasting and expensive physical plant changes.

Most surprisingly, the O acknowledges “anecdotal enthusiasm among the stroller set,” which augurs an end to declining enrollment in the district, as long as we can keep our “schools attractive enough for families to stay.” This is the demographic change that those of us with young children in the district are keenly aware of, but is not accounted for by the PSU demographic studies PPS depends on.

We may finally be seeing baby steps in the right direction from Portland’s elites on public school policy. I’ve been asking for a few weeks now for the district to state the reason for continuing with Phillips’ K-8 conversion. I appreciate that the Oregonian editorial board is asking the same question.

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

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The K-8 Transition

We know that the completing the K-8 transition is one of the top priorities of Carole Smith. We all know that to date, the transition has been rocky. Many schools do not have space. Some comprehensive middle schools seem slated to be kept open, while some clusters, like Jefferson, have had all their middle schools either closed or converted (despite having one school without enough space to even add sixth grade).

I was unable to attend the meeting last night at Rigler… Who went? How did it go?

I’ve set up a forum for this topic, since it’s probably going to be a hot one for a while. Feel free to start new topics there, or leave comments here.

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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