Hundreds attend school boundary change meeting

A district committee is reaching the final stages of its decision

The room was packed at Portland Public Schools Blanchard Education Service Center on North Dixon Street, January 14 2016. (Shasta Kearns Moore, The Portland Tribune)

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — A sea of Skyline yellow, Lincoln blue and Rieke white flooded into the Blanchard Education Service Center Thursday evening as T-shirt-wearing parents and students came to make their voices heard during Portland Public Schools’ boundary change process.

A Rieke Elementary School parent holds up his sign protesting the proposed boundary changes, January 14 2016. (Shasta Kearns Moore, The Portland Tribune)
A Rieke Elementary School parent holds up his sign protesting the proposed boundary changes, January 14 2016. (Shasta Kearns Moore, The Portland Tribune)

There were no official estimates of the number of people at PPS’s main office building, but observers guessed around 200 — one of the largest crowds seen there.

“We’re excited to see a big crowd,” said district spokeswoman Christine Miles. “That means people want to be involved and want to be engaged.”

A parent representative for each school was given two minutes to speak to the District-wide Boundary Review Advisory Committee (DBRAC) at the beginning of the meeting. Many questioned changes to their neighborhoods, expressed frustration with the process and voiced concerns over racial and socioeconomic inequity in the current scenarios.

Melissa Frantz, PTA president at Chief Joseph/Ockley Green K-8 School that is split across two campuses, expressed outrage that the community might be disrupted again.

“The fury and heartache I feel over the latest modeling … drives me to the brink of hopelessness,” she said. Calling herself a “first-generation gentrifyer” she implored DBRAC members to find an alternative to turning King PK-8 School to a PK-5. “It sucks. It stinks to displace children.”

DBRAC was meeting to discuss its first draft of recommendations to Superintendent Carole Smith, focusing on the westside schools for now. It will take on the challenges east of the Willamette River this spring, with a decision before the end of the school year.

Smith will make her recommendation for changes to be implemented next school year to the school board by the end of February, which will allow her to include the changes in her concurrent budget process.

Few K-8s will be left

The current proposals for relieving overcrowding and boosting funding by boosting populations at underenrolled schools would convert many K-8 programs back to a elementary/middle school model. But DBRAC chair Jason Trombley said the committee doesn’t want to do middle schools “as usual.” The draft proposal calls for fewer, smaller middle schools “to help foster familiarity and relationships.”

For the schools that remain K-8 programs, the committee also wants the district and the teacher’s union to address a disparity in instructional time between middle-grade students at K-8s and middle schoolers.

Trombley calculated that with 15 minutes less instructional time per day, older students in K-8 schools were missing out on a total of 10 school days a year compared to kids in middle school programs.

“That’s something that we’re going to have to address if we’re going to have K-8s in the system,” he said.

The next meeting — at Wilson High School on Jan. 19 at 7:30 p.m. — will consider Version 2 of the draft recommendations as well as high school boundaries, something the committee hasn’t attacked yet.

Jason Trombley, chair of the District-wide Boundary Review Advisory Committee, explains the draft recommendations, January 14 2016. (Shasta Kearns Moore, The Portland Tribune)
Jason Trombley, chair of the District-wide Boundary Review Advisory Committee, explains the draft recommendations, January 14 2016. (Shasta Kearns Moore, The Portland Tribune)

Among the other considerations yet to be fully address are transportation and implementation.

“I have a question overall about the district’s adequately funding this whole change,” said DBRAC member Hector Roche.

Brian Unflat, a parent at Rieke Elementary School in Hillsdale, said that despite the brief public comment period he felt heard by the committee.

“They are listening,” he said. “It’s kind of a thankless job.”

Unflat said he believes the longterm solution is for city planners to work with the district to identify opportunities for new schools in areas with a lot of growth.

“It’s wonderful that cities grow … but without great education for the next 50 years, our city won’t be a great city.”

Major proposals in DBRAC’s Jan. 14 recommendations:

– Move a boundary between Ainsworth and Chapman to relieve overcrowding at Chapman.

– Move the Odyssey magnet program out of Hayhurst to either Smith, East Sylvan or Jackson Middle school buildings.

– Middle schools of 450 minimum enrollment

– North Portland to have two middle schools rather than the three initially proposed by the district

– All K-8 programs should move to a K-5/Middle school if they have enough kids for three sections per grade, except: Skyline, Faubion and possibly Sunnyside.

– Implement grade reconfigurations no earlier than 2017.

The Portland Tribune is a KOIN media affiliate. 

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