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Portland school board member alleges discrimination as sparks fly over budget

Board's first Latina member says she's tired of being marginalized

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Portland Public Schools board member Julie Esparza BrownThe stress of a marathon budgeting discussion seems to have gotten to Portland Public Schools board members as an argument played out over a series of meetings Tuesday, beginning at 8 a.m. to a final gavel at just after midnight.

Julie Esparza Brown, the school board’s first Latina member, read a public statement that expressed outrage over what she termed as a pattern of discrimination and marginalization of her viewpoint during her year in office.

“I will no longer tolerate being personally and professionally attacked when my opinion differs from that of my colleagues,” Brown said. “This is bigger than me. This is not about me. If this comportment is going to be allowed in our shared space then it devalues all of our students, really.”

She urged the board to change its tone to make it safe for multiple and diverse viewpoints. SCREENSHOT: PPS.NET - Portland Public Schools board member Julie Esparza Brown makes a public statement on feeling discriminated against and marginalized on the board at a Tuesday, May 17 meeting.

“If we can’t allow and guarantee the safety of that sacred space, then we all lose, and our kids ultimately are going to lose,” she said. “So I implore us to make some significant changes now because (otherwise) I don’t see how we’re going to work to further the equity work that has begun so beautifully in this district.”

Brown was not specific about the comments that led her to make the statement after 9:30 p.m., and did not immediately respond to a voice message request for comment. But board member Steve Buel admitted he lost his temper that morning when Brown sided with another board member to cut funding from a pet project.

“I’m not overly proud of getting upset, but at the same time, it was an issue worth getting upset over,” Buel said. He said he has been fighting for three years to build a website for teachers that could be a resource for multicultural and local history curriculum. The suggestion to cut half of the $300,000 budget for the website and an archivist would kill the project, he argued.

Buel added that he also was equally upset at board member Mike Rosen, who is white. TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Portland Public Schools board member Steve Buel

“I couldn’t believe they wanted to yank it out,” he said, noting Rosen and Brown’s support for multicultural education in the district.

Rosen said a new website could ultimately be a good solution, but renewed discussions with cultural groups need to mature first.

“It’s presumptuous that you’re going to address that issue substantively just by building an expensive website,” he said.

Board members Tom Koehler and Amy Kohnstamm expressed their support for Brown, the latter giving her a standing ovation after her speech.

“I was also insulted and disregarded in our conversations this morning and that is not OK,” Kohnstamm said.

Buel apologized publicly to Brown later in the evening and denies a pattern of discrimination.

See a video of Brown's statement.

Shasta Kearns Moore
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