This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on March 2, 2006 5:11 PM. The previous post in this blog was Fascinating. The next post in this blog is Crowded house. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

E-mail, Feeds, 'n' Stuff

Thursday, March 2, 2006

Close six more schools?

The current budget mess at the Portland School District has reports circulating that six more schools may have to be closed. The term "downward spiral" is definitely coming to mind.

Don Smith, who's running for City Council, sent me a statement on this today that might get an interesting (ahem!) conversation going. He writes in part:

San Francisco is the Portland of 2020 in many ways. A booming city center that is too expensive for middle-class families and a suburban outlying area with many schools that outperform their inner-city rivals. Portland is seeing this exodus now and has a chance to stop it. To quote Kris Anderson, Irvington parent, from last night's school-funding town hall meeting, "There is going to be a massive exodus, and you will never get these children back."

Coincidentally, I read an article last night outlines about how San Francisco has moved to a decentralized, follow-the-kid funding model that has raised performance in every single school in the district without raising costs. Essentially, kids can apply to any school in their district and there is a funding formula that gives schools more money for attracting special-ed, low-income, or non-English-speaking kids.

We are in crisis mode right now, but the reason the voters aren't willing to pony up is that they won't spend money on a jalopy. We want at least a late-model Chevy, but San Francisco has proven we can get a luxury car for standard-model pricing.

Vicki Phillips said last night that closing more schools is on the table. Which schools will be closed? That will be decided by Central Administration. Not the parents. Not the kids. In other words, not the customers. If closing our schools is on the table, then why wouldn't this be? At least give the schools the chance to individually improve enough to justify staying open rather than closing another Smith Elementary (one of the best in the system).

Join me in urging our leaders, specifically Vicki Phillips, to consider putting the weighted-student funding option on the table immediately. SF had a one-year pilot and went full-scale in year two. I see no reason we couldn't do the same. The communities and parents in particular have been wildly enthusiastic about the revitalization of their neighborhood schools.

As we say on the final exams, "Discuss."

Comments (25)

At the risk of being verbally bludgeoned to death, I'll toss out that "...a decentralized, follow-the-kid funding model that has raised performance in every single school in the district without raising costs." is just more rearranging the pieces on the board while the whole district goes bankrupt.

And there's already been a massive exodus of students which shows few signs of slowing down. Those leaving aren't going to be slowed down by another "promise" from PPS or the county or city. They're leaving because they can't afford to live here. The schools aren't the reason - thats a red herring that serves only to provide cover for the usual suspects to avoid taking responsibility and making tough decisions.

"Vicki Phillips said last night that closing more schools is on the table. Which schools will be closed? That will be decided by Central Administration. Not the parents. Not the kids. In other words, not the customers."

Closing schools better be on the table and why shouldn't Central Administration decide? It's part of their job! The parents and kids are not the only customers - they're a minority of the customers. It's ridiculous to think that they would ever agree to closing any schools. The board has a responsibilty to all the taxpayers - not just those with children.

I'll save Randy Leonard and the other drones the trouble of the usual demagoguery - I hate children because I'm a greedy, selfish a**hole.


I appreciate the skepticism. I think parents who have left aren't going to come back based on a promise. But if a school district the size of SF can have the kinds of improvement they've seen in just 4 years, we're likely to have a similar result, so let's debate it.

Besides, why do you hate children? Oh, wiat, you beat me to the punch. LOL.

Seriously, I'm a choice advocate. I think Kremer's on the right track, but politically it won't fly here. If you look at SF's experience it has saved the very schools that were "ghetto" and "horrible" to hear it told. There are public school advocates out there (Mike Miller is one) who believe that the only solution is to force poor kids to go to their bad neighborhood school until the district gets around to making it a good one. Experience has taught us that only competition makes things better. (See, e.g. any monopoly on anything)

SF has demonstrated that opening to competition within a district and MOST IMPORTANTLY giving each school control of its own funds makes all of the schools better.

I just want the option looked at and honestly explored.

I can't have kids because I can't stop reading this blog long enough to go do what is necessary. Your fault, Jack!

What I'm curious to know is, would people take a voluntary 25% cut in their estimated house value if it meant that more people with kids could move in next door?

I think part of what's happening in Portland is the "aging in place" problem. People move in, their kids go to the schools and then people stay in that house even though their kids are long gone. I graduated from PPS over 15 years ago and yet many of my old friends' parents are still in the same houses they were living in when I graduated. Makes it awfully hard to have families move in if people won't leave. Not saying they have to leave, but it just reduces the housing stock within PPS boundaries.

These school funding threads are always good for a laugh, as the tightwads come out of the woodwork to assure us that they don't hate kids, they just hate the idea of providing them with an adequate education.

Don't think of them as 6 closed schools. Think of them as 6 new McMenamins.

I break that joke out every round of cuts and it's getting old: The joke and the cuts.

Yet another event proving the total political ineptitude of Paul Allen. Honestly, could he have picked a WORSE time to come to the people of Portland with a tin cup in his hand?

Let me pose this question

Given that WA is paying 6% of school payroll towards pensions and Oregon is paying 20% of school payroll towards pensions,
are we to do nothing about this while our schools
are devastated?

If our school employees were paid 66% more than Washington towards their pensions it would be half of what we pay now and result in a huge.

Do our unions claim that getting 66% more than their equals in Washington is not enough?

Well thank god the Oregon kicker goes back to out-of-state corporations instead of saving our schools. Being shamed in Doonsebury wasn't enough, maybe we should do a comparison to some third world countries and show how bad we treat our kids here. How did we ever end up in a mess where Karen Minnis and her ilk were able to buoy up more money per kid for rural schools, but leave Portland to dry up and die.

Rickynagg, have you set foot in a Portland school in the past five years? Are you friends with a single staff person for PPS? You seem quick with the cliches of the VRNM, but how about being in touch with Portland? Or does Lars Larson keep you as informed as you need to be? And, how do you feel about in addition to short changing the kids out of a decent education we strap them with 30K in federal debt. Call that the "birth tax." You cool with the borrow-and-spend Republicans running the show and the see-saw of Oregon tax revenue that comes with state taxes tied to federal taxes?

craaack, splinter!

there, I'm out again.

Don, I don't doubt the efficacy of the SF model at doing what it was designed to do. It's just that I don't think it addresses the problems here. It's just another (probably) good solution in search of a problem. I'm not saying there aren't wide disparities in school quality in PPS, they just aren't the main problem.

I just don't think we can afford to wait and see while another "solution" gets batted around by the district, PAT, the teachers, parents and all the myriad "stakeholders" that come out of the woodwork to tell us were all tightwads if we question ANY aspect of business as usual. If the proposed solution isn't comprehensive, susutainable and saleable, it just prolongs the agony. Even accomplishing its intended goals "...without raising costs." doesn't cut it. We're already $57 million in the hole.


I already said I hated kids.

It's Bush's fault.

or Lars', or the corporate kicker's, or Karen Minnis', or, oh, you've got the list... Just don't look over there...under the PAT sign. They only threaten to strike "for the children".

Screw Doonesbury, he your moral compass? Gosh, he's better than Lars. Far more sanctimonious, at least.

I've lived here for over 50 years and have a child in high school in the PPS. I'm deeply involved at her school and will continue to be - for her sake! I have a brother and sister-in-law who have taught here for 30 years and I don't belong to ANY organizations. I don't have to justify anything to you, but I'm polite - and you asked.

Lars doesn't pull my strings - but he obviously jerks your chain.

Try your talking points and insults on somebody else.


Those darn folks who are "aging in place" do have and have had the good grace to die, eventually. I guess that's "leaving".

I have sent Don Smith links before on voucher and choice programs. Their performance as a method of cutting costs and improving performance is mixed at best (the most recent evidence shows a small improvement in performance in voucher programs with no cost savings).

Don's proposal is a thinly veiled choice proposal.

Schools aren't like boxes of cereal on your store shelf. You can't just take the Wheaties off the shelf if folks don't buy them any more. Schools require significant capital investment.

What I find ironic about this proposal is that Don claims to be looking out for the kids when opposing a plan to close schools... yet hasn't he posted in other fora complaining about the cost structure of PPS?

The small and underpopulated schools are likely the ones to be closed. In that respect, students and families *are* the ones talking.

Portland Public IS a district of choice.

Any family can apply to ANY school in the district. They put down their top three choices, and it's a lottery system for the kids that aren't part of that neighborhood. A kid in the Abernathy School neighborhood can apply to Irvington, Chapman, and Kelly, for instance.

They can also apply to Portland Public sponsored charter schools, of which there are several, including Emerson, Opal, Trillium, and several new charters this year including a Waldorf school. Each charter school has it's own lottery system, separate from the general PPS system. A parent can apply to their top three choices in the regular PPS system, PLUS then apply to all the charters.

So it's ill-informed to say that PPS is not a district of choice. The dollars DO follow the student. And Title 1 schools- schools with a population of 40% students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, which is the way poverty is defined- receive money that non-Title 1 schools do not, for additional services determined by need.

Those are the facts.

The Mrs and I fit the demographic. We are young professionals that live close in Irvington. We both work downtown and enjoy the 15-minute door-to-door commute. The convenience of the commute and the nearby shopping, restaurants etc. made it easy to overlook being burglarized and the occasional car prowl. As much as we like living here, the school situation is why we are going to pull the plug. We are not alone, at least half of the houses on our block have turned over and only one family with children has moved in. Our plan is to head to Washington where we can choose a good school district with stable financing and a neighborhood where there is some space. It is too bad, but for the schools we would probably stay.

Okay, I'm not crazy about the my taxes either, but that is a different thread.

Let me politely suggest that all the educational philistines responding to this post, especially Don Smith, take the time to read the reactions of the Neighborhood Schools Alliance to Vicki Phillips' proposals for school closures.

I recommend Ruth Adkins piece "Lost in Translation", Mike Miller's "Heckuva job, Vicki!", and my own take on school choice.

Send your reactions either to the NSA site or to my blog.

I can see the benefits of the choice mode. San Fran's plan sounds like a voucher program, which I have no problem with in the grand scheme of things, but about which I would have stability concerns. How far ahead could a school plan under such a funding model? 1 year? 3 years? 6 years? Unless there was a provision to provide adequate funding for the schools, outside of student choice, then I'd be a little concerned about the long-term health of the system.


You missed my point entirely. I said that this is not to reduce budgets, it's to increase performance without increasing our budgets. It's also not a thinly veiled anything. Choice is a completely different model (one I proudly back). However, this is a model that operates within the public school model and that is different from charter schools or magnet programs.

The thrust is that principals are hired, given a budget for them and a single staff person. Then, tehy get money based on how many kids enroll in their school. What programs they fund and what type of kid they try to atttract is up to them. More "expensive" kids (spec-ed, ESL, etc) get more money from the district.

San Francisco's result is that even their worst schools have gone from 3's on a scale of one to ten to 6s and 7s, and their 7s and 8s have gone to 9s and tens.

This is not a solution in search of a problem. There is a huge disparity in our schools and there's been a slide in our overall quality. The people of Portland don't want to give more tax dollars to a crappy system and I'm with them on that.

Just closing schools won't solve the problem. We need a new model.

We know the system in PPS is broken, we know there is too much going towards pension costs, we know parents are leaving, we know people are fed up, so what can we do to force fundamental change? Do we just let things continue until the PPS goes belly up?

As for a comment made about Portland getting too expensive...It's not any cheaper in the close in 'burbs with good schools. People aren't leaving Portland because they are getting "pushed out" due to high housing costs. They're getting out for a bigger newer house in a pretty new neighborhood with nice paved roads and amenities like enough police and basic services that Portland ignores.

I read some stats a while back that the average Portlander's income is declining. This isn't because people's paychecks are being decreased, but because the person moving into the city is a "lower" demographic than the ones moving out to the 'burbs. Remember, it's the "creatives" that the city is trying to attract, not the professionals who coincidentally probably make more money than the "creatives".

I'm curious why Don and others haven't responded to Mary's post. She is right -- Portland already has the SF system you are referring to. I don't remember the exact stats, but I think something like 70%+ of all intra-PPS transfer requests are granted. So kids are already choosing, and the money follows them.

School Voter:

Regarding Mary's post, the SF model isn't just about choice. The critical aspect is that schools, individual schools, determine their budgets, program offerings, hiring of teachers, length of school year, etc.

The number of kids who sign up for a given school based on its attractiveness to families determines that principal's budget. We don't have that system at all.


Welcome to Washington.

My Mrs. and I have been happy raising our kids here. Started in PPS, but with Measure 5 looming (this was a long time ago) we thought we could see what was coming and, lo, it has come to pass.

Plus we haven't seen any syringes on the school playground like we did almost daily in Portland.

I used to love Portland and still think it has some fine things going for it. Unfortunately, its local government and schools aren't among them and, in our opinion anyway, have had a corrosive effect on some of the things we used to like.

FYI, I think the article Don references was in "Reason" magazine, the propaganda arm of the Libertarian Party.

And yes, I read the same article, and yes, the magazine comes to my house, but I promise, it was a gift!

Quality of education or fiscal discipline: they are really two separate issues.

In the midst of all the shouting about whether or not to give PPS more money, who is asking for a detailed public audit by a private and independent entity as to where PPS is spending or using the money it already has?

Naysayers to the public audit concept usually say that PPS just wouldn't shell out the funds to pay an auditor, or that an auditor won't do their job too thoroughly in the interest of getting rehired each year.

How about a self-funding audit of PPS (or any public entity, for that matter)? Allow an auditing firm to keep 10% of any systematic waste found, and 50% of any fraud leading to a criminal conviction. Let independent auditing firms estimate what they'd find and submit competitive bids to pay PPS for the opportunity to audit.

Audit rights go to the highest bidder. PPS doesn't pay a penny, and the auditor only makes money if they find enough waste or fraud. PPS would only make money on the deal.

All findings would become part of the public record. I'm sure the auditor would find lots of waste that PPS would refuse to recognize as waste, but that would end up in the courts and would give the taxpayers plenty of time to observe and comment.

Is this a pipedream? Can anyone point out a solution that has actually fixed our school funding problem?


I hate to break it to you but the Libertarian party is far too disorganized and factional to have a propaganda arm. :) Trust me on that.

Reason is, however, libertarian. Just lower case. And it's got scathing commentary on issues that bashes both sides of the aisle. Love it.

But read articles in SF Gate and the Bay Guardian about it. Even the SFUSD web site has info on the weighted formula funding program. It's very well regarded. The Trib had an atricle in their ReThinking Schools pullout about Edmonton that I missed until today, too. Edmonton pioneered the concept.


That is not accurate. That is the rhetoric but not the reality. It was apparent to me when I moved here, and I broke my financial back to get into the Duniway district.

"Why do it?" people asked me, this is a choice system. You can always just choose Duniway.

But I'd lived through such systems once fiscal strain hit. And that reality has hit PPS.

Many, many schools now have lotteries and can only fill a small number of their "choice" slots.

The era of a "choice" system in Portland has ended.

Don, honestly i don't know enough of the specifics of the San Fran system. The city has undergone dramatic demographic shifts, however, so I'd be leery of attributing all improvements to a choice system.

My worry with any choice system is the infrastructure costs required to build a school system. So say a principal doesn't do a good "sales" job. What do you do? Can the principal? Close the school? But the kids have to go somewhere...and the other schools are now overcapacity. So you build another? Or a new principal in the old one?

Schools just don't work that way.


Jim P. and Pat : we are in the same boat. Can you email me with some ideas about where to look? I need to commute down I-205 to Reed College, but can travel on off hours. Email is paul.gronke@gmail.com


It's just been implemented and SF DOES attribute the change to the system. They point to nothing else to explain it.

And, yes, you do just can the principal if it doesn't work out. However, principals work with neighborhood groups to determine the kind of schools those families want (market research) and concentrate on that kind of school. Highly immigrant neighborhood? Bilingual focus school. Regular neighborhood? Regular neighborhood school. And so on.

Also, this is not a funding fix. It's a quality fix that makes Portlanders more likely to be willing to fund the schools.

Clicky Web Analytics