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  • 23 Nov 2014

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New PPS adviser to tackle diversity

Plan expected to guide recruiting for schools, administration


Portland Public Schools has hired a consultant to write its Affirmative Action Plan, an initiative to hire more teachers, administrators and staff of color.

The consultant for the yearlong contract is Donny Adair, brother-in-law to Harriet Adair, PPS' executive director of School & Operations Support, who started working for the district in 1970.

The hire for the year-long, part-time $10,000 contract has raised red flags for at least a few parent watchdogs who’ve been tracking the district’s leadership decisions lately. “Nepotism can be troubling,” says Bruce Scherer, a parent at Metropolitan Learning Center and member of the group Parents for Excellent Portland Principals. “Aren’t there other consultants out there? It just looks like favoritism, using the personal connections.”

Scherer equates it to PPS’ hire of consultant Yvonne Deckard, who some believe shared a history with Superintendent Carole Smith at Open Meadow Alternative Schools. Deckard was board chairwoman at Open Meadow from 2005 to 2009, just after Smith left her position as executive director to lead PPS.

Further back in history, PPS Interim Superintendent Diana Snowden in 1999 brought her brother-in-law, Steve Goldschmidt (the ex-governor’s brother), to PPS as a highly paid consultant. Two years later he was hired as the district’s human resources director until his costly termination in 2005.

Scherer says he doesn’t know the Adairs, and “they they might be doing dynamite work. ... But from a distance it looks bad, and it looks to be a pattern of behavior” for the district.

Donny Adair told the Tribune that he has a long history in affirmative action work for the city of Portland, the state and other public and private agencies.

Last year, he retired from the city after 13 years, most recently coordinating the writing of the city’s Affirmative Action Plan for the next four years, which was approved by the City Councel in June. He also wrote the plans at the Portland Fire Bureau, the state Department of Environmental Quality, state Department of Human Services and Legacy Emanuel Medical Center.

“I’ve worked almost 40 years in equal opportunity,” said Adair, who is black. “I do have a commitment to equal opportunity.”

Adair realizes sharing a family tie to a PPS administrator could raise eyebrows, and he doesn’t blame them. “People should be vigilant of public agencies, to make sure they do the right thing,” he says. “We’re all above-board on this.”

Adair says he responded to PPS description of the job last year, submitted a formal proposal, was one of several people interviewed and was then offered the job.

Harriet Adair didn’t know what he was up to and was not involved in the hiring, he says. While it’s his first time working with PPS, he did work at Emanuel with his mother, stepmother and several cousins. “I don’t think you can change people’s last names,” he says.

The 1969 Jefferson High grad is best known as the voice of the Demos, as their football and basketball announcer for the past 10 years. He’s sent his kids and grandkids to Jefferson and its cluster schools (which his sister-in-law is charged with overseeing). Adair also keeps busy as president of the African American Hunting Association, an organization he founded to promote diversity in the outdoors. He and his son, Donnell, will appear on Spike TV’s new reality show “Ten Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty” premiering Friday.

Adair says he expects to present PPS’ finished Affirmative Action Plan to the school board by June for review. Implementation begins next school year.

The plan will address the need to hire more people of color, to fulfill the aspirations of the state of Oregon’s Minority Teachers Act, which says that school districts should have a workforce that mirrors the population of the students they serve.

“This next year, the Legislature calls for schools to show a 10 percent improvement,” Lolenzo Poe, the district’s chief equity officer, told the Tribune. “We’ve got a ways to go. But we’ve got to be aspirational.”

PPS’ student body is indeed more diverse than its teachers and administrators, data shows.

Of the 43,400 district students, 55 percent are white, 16 percent Hispanic, 11 percent black, 8 percent Asian, 6 percent multiple races, 1 percent Native American and fewer than a percentage point are Pacific Islander.

Data from PPS human resources shows that teachers are the least racially diverse (83 percent white), and principals and vice principals are the most diverse (69 percent white).

Other school-based staff and PPS central administrators fall in the middle of that spectrum, at 70 percent and 73 percent white, respectively.

The PPS Affirmative Action Policy that the board approved in June states that PPS will “make meaningful efforts to recruit, employ, support and retain a qualified work force that reflects the diversity of our student body.” The goals are “not rigid, inflexible quotas that must be met, but rather targets reasonably attained by implementing best practices and applying good faith efforts.”

As the plan is rolled out, PPS will track and record the outcomes, but there will not be any enforcement efforts attached to the plan.