Neighborhood elementary schools and school choice for our high schools are hallmarks of the Portland Schools.
Because the state is shifting education funds to poorer districts, the Portland School Board is conducting a large Enrollment and Facilities Study this fall to evaluate potential school closures, consolidation, and redistricting in order to save money. They have put on the table closing island schools, creating new grade combinations like K-8 schools, consolidating the high schools, closing neighborhood elementary schools, and redistricting, among other options.
For context, the portion of the city's budget dedicated to schools has declined over the past 10 years from 52.5% to 49% of the tax levy. Portland now spends the least per student on education of all of our neighboring communities, other than Westbrook.
This is not the right direction for our schools: Research shows that school consolidation is associated with worse student outcomes, less family involvement in the schools, and poorer job satisfaction among teachers. School closures also cause property values to decline.
Certainly, we should always look for efficiencies and ways to save money in the budget, but we should not compromise our progress in meeting the Portland Promise, the district's five-year plan to improve achievement and equity. If a program is no longer needed, we should cut it. If we can find better ways to work, we should be open to that.
And we should aggressively pursue additional funding from state and local options, such as expanding the city’s Tax Increment Financing districts in the short term, as well as longer-term solutions, like local option taxes.
But at the core, we need to convince the city council that Portland’s schools should be a top priority. There's so much support for public education across the city. Our schools need the resources to achieve the Portland Promise and enable every Portland child to thrive.
To get there, Emily believes we need to more meaningfully engage the community and city council so they better understand the strengths and challenges of the schools and commit to the Portland Promise. That deeper level of engagement can then help the city council prioritize the schools. And it will help the community—businesses, alumni, and community organizations—all work together to provide students with the opportunities they need to close the achievement gap.