Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Alameda neighbors take their questions to PPS meetings on school changes

  Over the end-of-the-year holidays, Alameda neighbors suddenly became aware that a process put in action by the Portland Public Schools had been quietly discussing and evaluating options for improving the enrollment balance in Alameda, Sabin and Beaumont schools. Small groups of selected parents and neighborhood representatives were considering information prepared and provided by the school district with a goal of recommending one plan to the PPS Board for a vote in January. The expected result would be a change in the school boundaries. And to residents who have carefully bought homes to allow their children to attend a particular school, boundaries matter. Big time!

Scott Rider, chair of the Alameda Neighborhood Association, was accepted on the Boundary Advisory Committee (BAC), and dove into a deep river of information. The committee reviewed enrollments, facilities, staff, trends, old statistics, stale demographics, maps, school programs, and more. Much more. Scott was disturbed to learn that many of his Alameda neighbors had no knowledge of this long overdue effort to balance school enrollments. Apparently the District had mailed information about this process to families who have children in school, but had in no way attempted to contact the families with children not yet in school. Some suspicious souls thought the failure to communicate with the not-yet-student's families might be a deliberate effort to put into place a new arrangement before they could object. Perhaps the District folks thought the parents would be bored with the stacks of statistics and maps and charts and (yawn) PowerPoint presentations, and perhaps it was purely accidental oversight. But suddenly placid Alameda was on high alert. There was a plan, said the Portland Tribune, to draw a boundary right up Regents Drive and thence north on 29th, and shunt the families on the west side of the new boundary to Sabin school.

Armed with hundreds of fliers advising that enrollment changes might affect the residents, volunteers trooped through the bitter cold to assure that everyone who cared would know there was to be a neighborhood meeting to discuss the whole matter. Some 50 parents and several of the BAC members met on Sunday evening January 9th and Scott led the meeting to assure that everyone had a chance to speak and to get answers to questions.  Repeatedly, BAC members were forced to say they had not been allowed by the process to consider some options, that some things the District declared "not for discussion."

PPS is set to have a public information and discussion meeting at Beaumont Middle School on Thursday evening, January 13. People who attend will be seated at tables of six and allowed to discuss what is presented, and to write questions that may then be presented by the table. We'll find out tomorrow how this turns out. Given the outrage the 50 parents expressed at being told there were options that unnamed officials had declared off limits for discussion, the situation is not warm and fuzzy. Of even greater contention is the single minded drive by some PPS Board members to proceed to a quick decision this month to clear the way for Kindergarten Roundups. They evidently prefer a poor decision with a hostile neighborhood to a delayed decision on the plans. We'll post the results of the meeting here.

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