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A busy week for PPS: lead, radon and retirements, oh my

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - PPS Superintendent Carole Smith announced her plan to retire after the next school year. It’s been a busy week for Portland Public Schools, and school isn’t even in session.

Superintendent Carole Smith announced suddenly last Tuesday that she plans to retire in 2017. Smith said in an open letter that it was her plan all along to retire in her 10th year and that the board had asked her to stay on while it developed a plan for her replacement.

This seemed to come as a surprise to board member Paul Anthony, who told several news outlets that the board was informed of this decision after the fact. Under Oregon law, the superintendent is employed at the discretion of the board.

District management, including the superintendent’s role, is under a $50,000 investigation into the lead water crisis that is expected to be completed in early July.

The district sent the announcement of Smith’s planned retirement minutes before a rally began, demanding her resignation.

Don’t Shoot Portland began the protest at the Harriet Tubman School (Faubion K-8), in Northeast Portland. The approximately 100 protesters later interrupted school board proceedings at the school district headquarters with angry chants.

In the wake of high levels of lead discovered in school drinking water and radon found in school buildings, parents are saying district officials have violated their children’s civil right to education. Organizers of last week’s march say parents should be filing civil rights complaints.

The state board of education is putting adoption of new mandates for lead and radon testing — and reporting results to the public — on the fast-track.

Also last week, the first water test results came in for Humboldt, a shuttered school that will be opened for the Kairos charter school this September, The Oregonian reports. The report says that nearly half of the school’s water fixtures tested above the limit for lead in drinking water.

District officials have promised to post the results of this summer’s testing of all of its schools on its Healthy Schools website, but the results for Humboldt had not been posted by press time.

Possibly due to a backlog in the area’s water testing facilities, the district announced its plan for water delivery next school year as it anticipates not all of the fixtures will be cleared by then for drinking or food preparation.

The school board voted to contract with CH2M Hill, a large engineering and architectural firm, to help inform a plan to combat the lead problem.

Union members celebrated an up to $250,000 plan for blood lead testing of any school employee who requests it. Staff previously were told to visit a health care provider at their own expense if they were worried about exposure.

News partner KOIN 6 News contributed to this report.

Shasta Kearns Moore
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