MyView: PPS needs more community voices to guide critical work

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Portland schools could get needed funding to make repairs and improvements through a bond measure on the November ballot. School board members, however, have been criticized for not adding more community members to a technical committee guiding the bond work.Monday night I attended the Portland School Board meeting with the hope of convincing the board to revise their draft charter for the Citizen Construction Bond Accountability Committee.

According to Board Resolution 4640, the committee will be “an independent group of citizens from the community (that) will review quarterly reports and annual audits of how bond dollars are being spent to provide accountability to the public until construction is complete.”

The construction bond results from the work of the Long Range Facilities Planning Advisory Committee of 36 members that met for six months to assess facilities conditions for safety and accessibility in order to recommend a plan for major repairs, upgrades or replacements.

The committee established four guiding principles for its work: develop partnerships, embrace sustainability, demonstrate fiscal responsibility and practice inclusiveness.

The first priority of the resulting plan is to “utilize guiding principles as a filter for all future planning decisions.” However, the committee charter turns away from these principles and limits the oversight in scope and inclusiveness.

As a remedy, I asked that the board expand committee membership beyond the seven business representatives already selected. Talk about “flaming out.” The board voted unanimously to adopt the charter without change.

Before I go further, let me state emphatically that I still support the PPS bond. I get it, I’ve seen it, I’ve talked to students: there are vermin, classrooms that are way too hot or too cold, technology that just doesn’t work properly, bathrooms that on a good day smell like your least favorite New York City subway station.

Students and the community can’t — and shouldn’t — wait for a reinvestment in this critical infrastructure.

That said, as the district and school board wander through this 30-year journey at a rapid clip, on Monday night the board chose to leave behind 99 percent of the community in five minutes of deliberation.

Patronizing and dismissive?

By establishing a seven-member accountability committee the board made two key decisions. The first was to focus solely on fiscal accountability. Fiscal accountability is absolutely important, but showing that the money was actually spent for buildings is not the sole intent of the bond. How can this seven-member committee effectively develop partnerships, embrace sustainability, demonstrate fiscal responsibility and practice inclusiveness, when its expertise is solely centered on fiscal responsibility?

The board’s second key decision was to exclude the majority of stakeholders who are working hard to pass the bond and will be directly impacted by whether or not it is effectively implemented.

The board took great care Monday night to emphasize that the accountability committee is populated by “experts.” However, its definition of expert does not include school principals and teachers, deconstruction and sustainable building practitioners, neighborhood organizers, students, communities of color, or parents.

The expertise required to provide accountability to ensure this truly is a “community owned and implemented” endeavor, extends well beyond the boardroom.

The final and most significant disappointment comes from the board’s comments on several amendments requested to address these concerns. One board member suggested that when the district invites the community to comment on issues of this nature, it hears complaints about the minutiae of how concrete steps are being poured as part of the Marysville School repairs.

Apparently the board has been reduced to following up on concerns of this nature.

Is this anything but patronizing and dismissive?

This same school board member noted that it is not possible to have a truly representative oversight committee because there are just too many groups to be represented once the board starts to parse this issue.

So much for more than 200 years of representative democracy.

The board needs to rethink this decision and find a way to create a process that includes rather than excludes the largest portion of the community that is vested in the outcomes of this work.

Michael Rosen of Southeast Portland is a parent leader at Cleveland High School.

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