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Schools future depends on reform

My view • To regain support of parents and taxpayers, district needs to step up

The journey to save public education in Portland has been long, frustrating and short on achievement. Parents will support schools that meet the needs of children, and taxpayers will invest in a productive, well-managed public school district.

Parents and taxpayers have delivered, while district management continues to largely ignore suggestions from outside the system.

To stem the current crisis and win support for a funding request, the superintendent now must offer a substantive reform plan. A district strategy based on stable school facilities, participatory management and accountability for results would improve quality and win favor with Portland taxpayers.

School facilities: Portland's geographic area has stabilized. Only pockets of commercial and residential infill properties remain.

The district, city planners and private stakeholders can now strategically locate school facilities for the long term throughout the Portland Public Schools enrollment area. Where necessary, neighborhoods would be revitalized with improved housing, small businesses and infrastructure to attract families. A collaborative effort would build stable communities that encourage enlightened neighborhood cultures.

Participatory management: State law requires each public school to be managed by a site council. Each site council is composed of representatives of school employees, parents and community members.

The district refuses to fully empower its school site councils. PPS needs to move from a centralized to a decentralized operating model. Neighborhood schools, through elected site councils, would better manage available school resources and work environments.

The central administration would better provide limited support as determined by each neighborhood school.

School operating policy: Each school would develop a mutually acceptable mission statement and school operating procedures.

Fiscal control: Each school would control most planning and budgeting functions now provided by the central administration. Each school would manage an account containing its share of available district funds to be allocated according to program needs.

Management control: Each site council would be the primary school management, program improvement and school oversight committee. Principals would report directly to the council. All operating policies and procedures would support successful learning and teaching.

Results-based accountability: Reconciling expenditures with results continues to be a challenge for PPS. Successful accountability systems need to be a mechanism for timely and continuous positive change.

Site council control of fiscal and management functions with the involvement of local stakeholders would create a level of accountability never before experienced in PPS. Responsibility for personal involvement, support for others on the school team and taking ownership of the subsequent results now would be transferred to the school building level.

School outcomes can readily be compared to objectives and policies. Adjustments for improved performance would become timely and a part of the school operating routine.

Once again, the battle lines are drawn between those who want to uncover additional school funding sources and those who say that taxpayers are tapped out. The upcoming battle is a lose-lose for both sides, and we need not engage in it. The district must step forward now and offer the public, its employees and the clients it serves meaningful reform. Otherwise, public education in Portland may not survive the current crisis.

Jim Hanna is a principal with Hanna Development Inc. and a former Portland teacher.