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The Oregonian: Portland Public Schools looks to Portland State University for help with boundary changes
Author: Nicole Dungca, The Oregonian
Posted: November 14, 2013

Read the original story here in The Oregonian.

The always-contentious prospect of district-wide boundary changes is closer to a reality for Portland Public Schools as the district partners with Portland State University to find ways to “right-size” its schools.

The district announced the partnership with the Mark Hatfield School of Government’s Center for Public Service at this week’s board meeting. The project would last over two years and cost approximately $39,500 for the first phase, according to officials.

The two-year process would aim for an updated citywide school boundary map targeted to be implemented in the fall of 2015, as well as a recommendation of how the district could routinely go through boundary reviews in a “transparent and predictable manner.”

 

The term “right-size” may strike a nerve for parents who have watched the district use the term to justify closing small schools throughout the years -- because smaller schools are more expensive to operate, the district has combined under-enrolled schools with other schools. Portland has shuttered a dozen schools since 2005, inciting the anger of many parents and community members.

Boundary changes have also long been a contentious process in the district, often stirring up issues of race, class and history

The district said it's trending away from its more recent boundary change processes, which targeted geographic clusters of schools. The process with PSU will look at the entire district, officials said.

 

Judy Brennan, the district’s director of enrollment and transfer, said the district needs to broadly examine how it must deal with its growth. The district is in its fourth year of growth after years of declining enrollment.

“Our schools and our buildings aren’t necessarily accommodating the growth in the way we need it to,” Brennan told board members.

The district is insistent the project will bring together stakeholders from parents to the broader community to examine data and models to ensure “the engagement and integration of racially and culturally diverse communities and perspectives.”

Phil Keisling, the director of the university’s Center for Public Service, told board members they would have the option to consider whether they want to continue with PSU after the initial phases.

The district said it will use several programs at the Center for Public Service, such as Oregon Solutions, the National Policy Consensus Center, Oregon Kitchen Table and the Public Service Innovation library.

Here’s the timeline the district presented for the boundary review:

 

  • Now through February 2014: PSU and PPS will partner on an assessment of existing boundaries, challenges and opportunities and an identification of the problems that need to be solved. 
  • Spring/Early Summer 2014: Collaborate with City, Metro and community stakeholders to gain feedback on how to right-size boundaries. 
  • Summer 2014: Research and analysis of enrollment and population projections, building capacity and related issues.
  • Fall 2014: Proposed boundary map released for public discussion. 
  • Winter 2015: Final boundary map presented to the school board for consideration. 
  • Fall 2015: New school boundaries implemented.
Even with a neat timeline and more data backing up any changes, make no mistakes: a boundary change or a school closure will always be an intense process for a school community.
For recent proof, see the school board's recent decision to close Ockley Green's magnet program or its initial attempts to change the boundaries around Alameda and Sabin. It remains to be seen if tackling the issue district-wide will help make the process any less emotional.