The Portland Public Schools Board of Education approved sweeping changes to the enrollment and transfer policy at tonight’s meeting amid outcry from members of the audience.  

The policy changes include ending the neighborhood to neighborhood lottery system and moving to a petition system. The changes also create a preference for low-income and Head Start students at focus schools and require the district to begin tracking and analyzing data on petition transfer requests, among other revisions. The policy changes do not affect sibling priority at focus schools. 

The district had held a first reading on the policy Dec. 16 and was scheduled to vote on the changes Jan. 13, but a protest organized by activist group Don’t Shoot Portland canceled the meeting. Group members said they were advocating for more time for parents to weigh in about the proposed changes. 

At Tuesday’s meeting the board first heard public comment from several parents, some speaking in support of the changes and some against. One parent was concerned the board would move forward with a vote although a Cleveland Town Hall was recently canceled. Another parent said he approved of the board’s plan to abolish the neighborhood lottery. 

After comment Board Member Steve Buel first made a motion to push back the vote at least two weeks and have the district hold two community meetings. The motion was not seconded.

Portland Public Schools vote
The Portland Public Schools Board of Education approved changes to the enrollment and transfer policy at the Jan. 20 meeting. Objecting audience members stood and started speaking when the board moved to take a vote.

As Board Co-Chair Pam Knowles moved to take a board vote on the proposal, members of Don’t Shoot Portland stood up in the front row of the auditorium and started reading a statement about a survey they had put out to parents. The survey asked parents to answer questions such as “Is the Portland Public School Board doing a good job?” and “Do you feel your voice is being heard by the PPS School Board?,” according to a copy of the document. 

Knowles moved forward with the vote as the group continued speaking over her voice. A security guard had stepped between the board and audience. 

The motion passed with a four to one vote, with board members Ruth Adkins, Knowles, Bobbie Regan and Tom Koehler voting in support of the proposal. Board member Greg Belisle voted against the policy changes, and Buel did not take any action, district spokesman Jon Isaacs clarified. Matt Morton was not present. 

Don’t Shoot Portland members then left the auditorium, some shouting “shame on you” at the board and also thanking Buel. 

“We think that (the vote) was inconsiderate,” Don’t Shoot Portland spokeswoman Jasmine Reid said after the meeting. “We were very proud of Steve Buel today.”

The approved policy changes represent over a year of work to make the district’s enrollment and transfer policy more equitable. SACET the Superintendent’s Advisory Committee for Enrollment & Transfer, developed initial suggestions. SACET member Jason Trombley called the board’s action “courageous” and said he hopes the policy changes will allow the district to better serve all students.  

“This was the first step we needed to take,” he said.  

Superintendent Carole Smith will present the criteria for the petition process to the board by March 1. The policy changes will be implemented for the 2015-2016 school year. The district had initially estimated that implementing the changes would require a $260,000 budget amendment. Ongoing costs would be included in next year’s budget. 

–Laura Frazier

503-294-4035; @frazier_laura

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