Portland Public Schools has backed out of an agreement with the City of Portland over how to pay for nine armed campus officers.
The board unanimously adopted a resolution Tuesday evening suspending the approval of an intergovernmental agreement the district approved in December. That agreement, passed despite student protest, sought to keep officers at campuses five days a week. It also would’ve required PPS to foot the bill.
The resolution approved Tuesday reverses that agreement after school board members argued it’s the city’s – not the district’s – responsibility to pay for the campus safety officers.
“The police bureau is saying: ‘We have these tactics which we think are much more appropriate for working with our students … and yet if we’re going to provide that better service in the school environments, you’re going to have to pay extra,’” said PPS Board Member Amy Kohnstamm at Tuesday’s meeting.
“To me that doesn’t really make sense. It’s their responsibility to respond to the needs in our schools, so why wouldn’t they respond in the most evolved and appropriate way?”
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler met with PPS Board Chair Rita Moore and Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero on Jan. 14 to discuss concerns over the agreement.
Board Member Julia Brim-Edwards brought forward the resolution Tuesday after she said the city gave the district a “false deadline” for approving the agreement with the city. Board members said the deadline forced the district to make an uninformed decision in December without fully engaging with the community about their concerns.
“And it was made clear the IGA as approved in December was no longer acceptable to the board and would need substantial reconsideration,” said Vice Chair Julie Esparza Brown.
At the meeting with the mayor, PPS leaders reached several tentative agreements with the city, making clear that the district is unwilling to pay for the school resource officers. The district also agreed to look at alternatives to SROs.
Students called on board members to approve the resolution Tuesday, echoing concerns raised by earlier campaigns to prevent the district from moving forward with the agreement in the first place.
“At Roosevelt [High School], we have four counselors for the entire student body,” said Breely Buttitta, 18. “Students need support, not armed police patrolling the halls like a war zone.”
Camila Arze Torres Goitia, a government and economics teacher at Madison High School, said she has never seen her students more engaged until a recent circle discussion about SRO’s at Portland schools. She said she heard from students who said they would feel safer in school if there were more teachers of color, restorative justice coordinators or mental health counselors.
“Not one of them said an armed police officer would make them feel safe and secure,” she said.
The district says it plans to eventually revise the agreement with the city with input from students. It plans to have the revised agreement available for discussion by the end of February.