The City Club of Portland has created a research committee to consider the coming 2017 Portland Public Schools bond proposal. I have sent them the following memo.
To: City Club research committee on Portland Public Schools 2017 Portland Public Schools bond proposal.
From: Dave Porter, City Club member
Subject: Opposition to bond proposal
The physical facilities of the schools in Portland Public Schools are in bad shape and need to be upgraded or replaced. Sadly, and unfortunately for students, it now appears that the Board and staff of PPS will not put a financially sound proposal with thoughtful priorities before the public. Please recommend a “no” vote on the bond proposal, and send it back to PPS for rethinking. Please consider the following four arguments against a likely bond measure,
- The proposal will waste significant bond funding on over-building high school enrollment capacities.
- The proposal will further entrench a system of inequitable high schools segregated by race and family income.
- The proposal’s priorities will include neither needed health and safety improvements nor provided facilities needed to convert all K’s to middle schools.
- The proposal will ignore and make more difficult the needed development of more online high school courses, of paid high school study abroad programs, and of community based mentoring, work-study, and apprentice programs.
1. Overbuilding high school enrollment capacities
1a. Over building and wasted funds in 2012 bond measure
The 2012 Long Range Facility Plan and the 2012 bond measure “called for high schools that could each serve 1,500 students.” From PPS’s webpage with FAQ’s on the 2012 bond measure:
In 2013, the Board increased the high school sizes of Franklin and Grant to 1,700 and of Roosevelt to 1,350 with core space to expand to 1,700. Contrary to the FAQ statement above, no updated enrollment projections were published by PPS. The increases in enrollment capacities were not grounded in any data that could be checked or contested.
My 9/25/13 cost estimate for increasing the sizes of Franklin and Grant: a waste of $23 million:
1b. What high school enrollment capacity does PPS need?
This is the 2016-207 enrollment by high school.
PPS gets enrollment projections every year or two from Portland State University’s Population Research Center. The most recent projections were published in August, 2016. They project enrollment out to 2030-31. They make low, medium and high projections. This is their “high” enrollment projection for 2030-31. PPS has published no longer, further in the future, projections.
The Population Research Center’s 2030-31 high school enrollment projection above includes students in a range of alternative PPS high school programs. Only 87.4% of all the high schoolers are now in one of ten traditional high school buildings in PPS.
The Population Research Center made High Growth, Medium Growth, and Low Growth projections for 2030-31. Factoring in the 12.6% of students not projected to be in one of the ten traditional high schools, yields a range from 12,959 to 14,002 students that will be in one of PPS’s ten traditional high schools in 2030-31.
The Population Reach Center also estimated specific high school enrollments for 2030-31 using their Medium Growth Scenario, as follows:
1c. Current excess enrollment capacity
As a reminder that high school enrollment capacities can be over built (one should not assume that enrollments will forever go up), this chart is an estimate of the current “excess capacity” in the PPS high school system. And this is without counting Jackson Middle School, originally built as a high school, as excess.
PPS does not have a plan for where it is going with high school enrollment rebuilds. There are major uncertainties about the future use of Marshall (after years of being a swing site for other high school rebuilds, will it be sold off, mothballed, or continue to be used) and about the future of Jefferson (what to do with the excess capacity there and, if rebuilt, how big). All configurations will require major boundary changes over time.
1e. Estimate of financial waste
Consider the options above. Option #4 is, more or less, the course PPS is now on (although they have not articulated it). PPS would keep Jefferson small (whether as is or rebuilt). And PPS would cease to use Marshall as a high school after its role as a swing site is over. That would be a waste, closing a useable high school.
Option #2 would be the least cost option. It is hard to estimate how much it might save. But it would probably save over $100 million (even if Benson, Madison, and Marshall were rebuilt with core capacities for 1,700).
2. Entrenching inequality of high schools for generations
2a. Entrenching segregation by race and family income
PPS high schools are segregated by race and the family income of students. There are four schools with 66% or more of White students (Wilson, Lincoln, Grant, Cleveland). Those same four schools also all have 26% or less of student eligible for reduced priced meals. Those same four school have an average enrollment of 1,550. On the other hand, there are four schools with 34% or less White students (Jefferson, Roosevelt, Benson, Madison) and with 57% or more of students eligible for reduced priced meals. Those four schools have an average enrollment of 884.
This educational segregation is largely due to residential segregation, to PPS policies that restrict students from transferring out of their “neighborhood” high schools, and to PPS set high school boundaries that both conform to residential segregation patterns and which limit the enrollment potential size of the poorer, non-White schools. PPS has done nothing to change these segregation patterns. Rebuilding the three high schools as proposed will further entrench this pattern of segregated schools.
2b. Inequality in enrollment sizes means inequality in programs
From the PPS “High School System Design: The Superintendent’s Revised Action Plan” (9/27/10) (page 8):
The enrollment size of a high school determines the depth and variety of courses, especially elective courses, it can offer. The poorer, smaller, non-White high school just cannot offer the range of courses that the richer, bigger, White high school can offer. PPS’s system of segregated high schools is grossly unjust to its poorer, non-White students. There is not “enrollment parity across the system” as called for above.
2b. Lincoln’s boundary
Lincoln’s boundary was redrawn this past year. Some students were shifted from Lincoln to Wilson, another rich, White school. What did not happen was a shift of Lincoln students to any of the poorer, non-White schools on the east side of the Willamette River. For example, the students of the Skyline K-8 could have, but were not, reassigned to the closer, smaller, underenrolled, poorer, and more non-White Roosevelt high school.
3. Wrong priorities
Rebuilding three high school should not be the current top bond priorities for PPS. PPS has other more immediate needs. PPS has itemized $1.6 billion in needed health, safety and environmental upgrades. It is current proposing to do less than $400 million of those in the next bond. That leaves $1.2 billion unfixed problems. Are some students expected to live with those problems until the next bond issue (at least another four years off)?
Further, PPS is the midst of converting K-8’s to middle schools across the district. PPS does not yet have a plan on how it will do this. There are at least three sites where bond funding is needed: (1) Kellogg Middle School; (2) George Middle School; and (3)Lee Elementary School.
Building a new Kellogg Middle School for $45 million is a current option for the bond measure. Rebuilding Kellogg should be a top priority for PPS. Without Kellogg, six K-8’s in outer southeast will need to remain K-8’s until funds can be found to rebuild Kellogg. But there is a problem with the current Kellogg rebuild proposal. Its design capacity is an enrollment of 675 students. Unfortunately, those six K-8’s currently have 835 middle school students. Kellogg as proposed will not be big enough for them. Either Kellogg needs to be bigger or other solution needs to be developed.
3b. George Middle School
Two K-8’s in north Portland, Astor and Cesar Chavez, need to be converted to middle school feeders. To the east of them, Peninsula and Beach have been converted to K-5’s feeding Ockley Green Middle School. Astor and Cesar Chavez should probably feed into the existing George Middle School. Currently, George probably has room for the middle school students of one of them but not both.
In 2015-16, George had 369 students (360 in 2016-17) and 30 classrooms. At 20 students per classroom, George could now hold 600 students. So it could easily absorb more students from either one of the two K-8’s, but probably not both. Bond funding is needed to make enough classroom space at George to hold the middle grade students from both Astor and Cesar Chavez.
3c. Lee Elementary School in northeast Portland needs additional space in order to house two K-5 strands of a Vietnamese immersion program plus two strands of a non-immersion, English-only program. Currently, the Vietnamese program is at Roseway Heights. As Roseway Heights become a middle school, the Vietnamese immersion program will need to move. Lee is the best place for it. But Lee does not have enough classrooms. It probably needs three to five more classrooms.
4. Impeding needed alternatives to more brick-and-mortar high schools
High schools have not changed much in a century. They should. Looking ahead, high schools in PPS should change in three ways. All may reduce enrollment in the traditional brick-and-mortar schools: (1) paid years of high school study abroad; (2) online course taken off campuses; and (3) a variety of community based learning opportunities such as internships, apprenticeships, and mentorships.
4a Paid high school study abroad
PPS needs to offer paid high school years abroad to appropriate students. Not only are high school study abroad programs rich educational experiences, often life changing, for individual students, but our common futures increasingly will depend upon the abilities of our next generation to seize opportunities and solve problems beyond our national borders. We need to give more of them the skills and experiences needed to make them successful.
There is also a racial equity issue in play. Now, typically, high school students who study abroad are White, middle class students because parents have to pay the study abroad fees. We need to bring more equity to high school study abroad opportunities.
Plus, the fees for existing high school study abroad programs (including tuition, room and board with family, and international transportation) are about the same as the direct classroom operating costs per students at PPS high schools. The large, Scandinavian based study abroad organization ASSE (chart above) offers many high school years abroad for fees of under $9,000. In 2014-15, the “direct classroom operating costs per student” in PPS high schools (as reported to the Oregon Department of Education) ranged from $7,240 to $8,296 (see chart in online courses section). In 2014-15, total per student expenditures in PPS were $13,903 (operating expenditures per student of $12,618 plus capital expenditures per student of $1,285).
If, for example, in 2030-31, one fifth (20%) of PPS high school students spent one year of their four high school years abroad, that would reduce enrollment in PPS high schools by about 700 (14,000/4x0.2=700).
4b. Online courses
PPS needs to offer many more online courses to its high school students. For high school students, online courses can provide a large array of courses not offered at their specific high school. For a school district, moving students to take online courses apart from the physical campus (at home or wherever there is an internet connection), can produce both operating cost savings and capital savings (because fewer classrooms are needed).
Consider, as an example, the fees charged for online high school courses at Brigham Young University.
They have two levels of fees. One involves more teacher involvement.
BYU charges tuition per 0.5 credit, that would be one course for a half a year (a semester). They also charge $20 per course to mail course materials and $20 to ship exams. A typical student would have a schedule with eight periods, or the potential for eight courses of 0.5 credit per semester. Thus, a full school year could have up to sixteen courses. Yielding the following chart.
The Oregon Department of Education publishes a report “Operating Cost per Student by School by Fund” (Report #59) that separates “Direct Classroom” costs from other costs.
Report #59 also separates “General Fund” costs from “Special Revenue Funds” costs. Using the high schools of Portland Public Schools, the following chart combines the “General Fund” and “Special Revenue Funds”
From the annual “Direct Classroom” costs at each PPS high school, the chart then calculates the cost per 0.5 credit by dividing by sixteen. That cost per 0.5 credit is then compared with the cost per 0.5 credit at BYU online. BYU is significantly less expensive. The potential savings range from 36% to 44% depending upon the high school.
4c. Community based learning opportunities
PPS now has anemic community based educational options. They have few to no internships, community mentorships, work-study or apprentice programs. They need to develop more. All will reduce the on campus enrollment of PPS high schools.
4d. Alternative high school enrollment configurations for a total projected enrollment of 12,400
If a reduction of 700 students studying abroad and a reduction of 900 students taking online courses off campus are subtracted from the 2030-31 the high estimate of total PPS high school enrollment of 14,000, the result is a 2020-31 estimate of 12,400 high school students. These are some alternative configurations of PS high school too meet that future.
The Portland City Club should not support a PPS bond measures that will over-build high school enrollment capacities, wasting $100’s of millions.
The Portland City Club should not support a PPS bond measure that will further entrench a system of high schools segregated by race and family income.
The Portland City Club should not support a PPS bond measure that does not prioritized school expansions need to have middle schools for all students.
The Portland City Club should not support a PPS bond measure that does not prioritize all needed and critical health and safety upgrades over high school rebuilds.
The Portland City Club should not support a PPS bond measure that will hamper the development of off-campus online courses, of paid high school study abroad programs, and of an expansive array of community based alternatives.