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School Board Recommends Charter Changes

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School Board Recommends Charter Changes
Posted on 11/11/2021
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At its Nov. 9 meeting, the Portland Board of Public Education voted unanimously to deliver to the Charter Commission six recommendations for changes in the City Charter. The proposals include revisions to how the school budget, bonds and capital improvements projects are all approved. Others would make changes governing elections to Board seats and would allow any Portland resident to vote in municipal elections, including noncitizens.

Board members say the revisions are designed to make decisions on school matters more democratic and participatory and to put the Board on a more equal footing with the City Council.

Below are the proposed changes and highlights of the Board’s justification for them. More details can be found HERE.

      Direct the School Board to prepare the school budget and submit it to the City Council for the sole purpose of passing it on to the voters for ultimate approval.

Justification: Currently, the Council determines the bottom line of the school budget before sending it to voters. The Board believes that the elected School Board is vested with State authority to make these decisions and is best positioned to both understand the needs of students and schools as well as the ability of residents to absorb the tax implications of the school budget, as they are the ones talking most to voters about public education.

      Establish universal resident voting for municipal elections.

Justification: Universal resident voting has shown to improve educational opportunities and student and family outcomes. Many PPS families and large swaths of PPS communities are disenfranchised. Over 25% of PPS students are English learners and almost one third come from a home where a language other than English is spoken. Noncitizen residents who want to become citizens face significant bureaucratic challenges, waiting a minimum of five years to obtain a green card and up to 25 years by some estimates to go through the process to become citizens.

      Adopt clean elections.

Justification: Getting money out of politics will enable more diverse candidates to run for office, help address systemic barriers to who is able to run for office, and enable candidates to compete on a more even playing field.

      Provide that both the city manager and superintendent jointly prepare and submit to the City Council and School Board a multi-year CIP to be reviewed and decided upon by a joint committee of the Board and the Council and submitted to the Council for final approval.

Justification: The schools have a large capital footprint in the city but are only consulted on the annual preparation of the CIP. Providing the school district more input upfront on the CIP will create more predictability for capital improvements to the schools and allow for better planning and resource allocation.

      Grant the School Board the authority to request the placement of a school construction or renovation bond question before the City voters at the next scheduled municipal election or at a special referendum, and direct the City Council to call and oversee that referendum, thereby placing the question before the voters.

Justification: The elected School Board is the one with authority over public education and is not subordinate to the City Council but derives its authority from the Legislature. The current structure, with the Council determining whether or not a bond issue for school purposes should be on the ballot is adversarial and vests the City Council with undue authority over the schools.

      Allow the School Board to make a nomination to fill any open school board seat with an interim appointment until the next election, provided the open seat would remain unfilled for more than 60 days.

Justification: The School Board operates best when all seats are filled and all residents have full representation.

      Provide that if a candidate wins an open school board seat in an election year for which the term expires that November, the candidate does not run for re-election again that November but would serve for both the remainder of the existing term and the new three-year term.

Justification: It is a burden for candidates to run twice within the same year.

The 12-member Charter Commission is in the process of considering changes to Portland’s City Charter. Any reforms the Commission proposes would need to be ratified by the voters before they become part of the Charter.