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PPS union: Members 'feel deceived' by district leadership

The head a large Portland Public Schools’ labor union says her members have lost confidence in school district leadership as parents and others clamor for answers about elevated levels of lead in some schools’ drinking water and radon found in buildings.

Belinda Reagan, president of Portland Federation of School Professionals Local 111, said Friday, June 3, that her members “feel deceived” by PPS administration staff and leaders.

“Parents are calling for Superintendent Carole Smith to resign, and I don’t blame them,” Reagan said in the statement. “Our primary concern is for our city’s children, and I have similar worries for our school workers, who feel deceived. Dangerous facts have been hidden from all of us. We have grave concerns that we’re not working in safe, healthy schools.”

Reagan’s union represents more than 1,400 PPS classified employees, including secretaries, educational assistants, physical and occupational therapists, security agents, sign language interpreters, and dozens of other employee groups.

Her statement comes after angry parents lashed out at school officials during two meeting last week to discuss findings of water tests done about four years ago in Portland schools. The tests found elevated levels of lead in some of the buildings, but district officials didn’t alert parents or staff until recently.

At least four dozen school buildings had elevated levels of lead in their water, according to media reports.

In the past week, the district has shut off all water to area elementary schools, and have stacked up bottled water for students and staff to use.

Another test for radon gas found elevated levels in some buildings. Smith placed two top staffers on leave pending an investigation into how the tests were done and why results were not distributed to parents until this year.

Reagan said the changes were not enough, and called for full accountability from the top down. “We’re in a crisis of confidence. This pattern of avoidance, half-measures, and dangerous silence is all too typical of upper management. They seem to believe that if you hide problems, they’ll go away.”

“Students, parents, staff, and faculty — we’re all in this together,” Reagan said. “We all need a safe place to work and learn. We don’t deserve to be poisoned. We demand the full, immediate truth about our level of exposure, now, and everything that’s happened on Superintendent Smith’s watch.”