OPINION M26-215: Ensure equitable funding of Portland schools
As ballots arrive in mailboxes across the city, this fall's election is the right time to reassess whether proposed community investments are in line with our values. It's been a rough year, to put it mildly, and the commendable resilience and determination of our teachers, students, parents and school staff remains a source of inspiration as the pandemic drags on.
We grew up attending Portland schools, and we know how important public schools are to this community. The centrality of public education to Portlanders' lives and our future has never been more apparent.
Read more about Measure 26-215 here
As voters look over their ballots, it's imperative we evaluate the 2020 Portland Public Schools bond by its ability to tackle our biggest challenges — the need for continued health and safety investments and modernization of our schools, the need to address equity and access for students who have not been well served by the school district, and the need to ensure all of our students have access to updated and modern curriculum materials. And, it needs to be affordable to taxpayers.
The racial inequities present in our community and nation writ large are unacceptable; this bond proposes capital investments in the places where a new vision is taking hold Measure 26-215 is the latest chapter of a historic, multi-decade initiative to overhaul PPS' crumbling buildings, many of which are more than 80 to 100 years old.
Thanks to the generosity of voters who supported the 2012 and 2017 school bonds, Roosevelt, Franklin and Grant High Schools as well as Faubion K-8 have been renovated, with construction underway at Lincoln and Madison High Schools and Kellogg Middle School. The district moved swiftly to remove lead from school water systems, as well as to make health, safety and educational improvements in all schools, including radon mitigation, seismic retrofits and upgrading fire sprinkler systems.
This year's renewal of the PPS bond continues to invest in these modernization initiatives for our outdated classrooms, extending the current tax rate to ensure the district continues the work of replacing our outdated, crumbling schools with modern, healthy learning environments for students, teachers and school staff alike. And, importantly, Measure 26-215 will not result in an increase in our tax rate.
It's poetic that this bond centers racial equity, justice and access with overdue investments in students and families that have been underserved for too long. Community advocates working with the PPS School Board successfully pushed for the allocation of bond funding to completely renovate Jefferson High School. Nearly 70% of students at Jefferson High School identify as non-white; the school, with its Middle College academic programs and renowned extracurricular programs in arts and sports, is known as the School of Champions and is a touchstone for Black Portland.
Additionally, the PPS bond will invest in the development of a community-visioned Center for Black Student Excellence (CBSE). The CBSE will unify and elevate Black learning from early pre-kindergarten through high school and guide young learners throughout their tenure in PPS with proven, culturally specific models. This emerging community-led concept will also intentionally connect a constellation of neighborhood schools in the Albina neighborhood in North and Northeast Portland to advance Black scholarship.
The 2020 bond makes another historic investment in that it will remove barriers to education and makes the first floor of every school in the district accessible to those with disabilities. Within five years, every first-floor bathroom, classroom, library and cafeteria will be accessible to all our students, staff and community members.
This isn't just an investment in classrooms; the bond provides funding to modernize the tools and materials with which students are taught. The bond will provide textbooks for kindergarten through high school across all core academic subjects. Additionally, there will be a major investment in technology; every student will have a laptop or device so that they are prepared and able to learn. Measure 26-215 also makes badly needed health, safety and basic building improvements, including security upgrades, seismic retrofits, replacements of leaking roofs and new HVAC systems.
Finally, the bond will complete Benson High School, fund the design and all pre-construction work for the modernization of Cleveland and Wilson High Schools, build a Multiple Pathways to Graduation building to serve students in alternative programs and design an expansion of Roosevelt High School.
PPS voters can affirm their commitment to renovating and modernizing Portland's classrooms and investing in every student. Please join us in voting yes to renewing the PPS school bond.
Rukaiyah Adams is the chair of the Board of Directors of Albina Vision and a former Portland Public Schools student. Julia Brim-Edwards is the PPS 2020 bond campaign chair, a PPS School Board member and PPS graduate.
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