Five times Portland Public Schools has held meetings about potential school building and boundary changes. Time and again, hundreds of parents have packed meeting rooms, cafeterias and gymnasiums to voice concerns.
Monday night, it was parents from the west side of the Willamette River.
The meeting at West Sylvan Middle School drew very different messages, depending on which school community was speaking.
Bridlemile: Too Much Disruption
Parents from Bridlemile Elementary opposed the disruption that would result from splitting kids as they graduate fifth grade. PPS has proposed moving those children either along the historical pattern — West Sylvan to Lincoln High School — or along a new path — to Robert Gray Middle School and on to Wilson High School.
Students like Harrison Talcott made emotional pleas Monday to keep classmates together after they leave Bridlemile. Harrison held back tears as he made his case to the district.
"This is just really hard for me — it's really hard to think of going to middle school and high school without my friends," he said.
Parent Sam Portovi drew loud applause when he forcefully opposed the split-feeder proposals in the district scenarios.
"We are completely opposed to being moved out of the Lincoln cluster; we are opposed to being a forced split feeder," said Portovi. "The scenarios do not provide equal educational opportunities, and do not address school size that's worth the disruption."
Bridlemile parent Brett Corrick suggested reducing overcrowding at West Sylvan and Lincoln another way — by emphasizing voluntary transfers to other schools, such as Robert Gray.
Other parents said that crowding at Lincoln should be addressed by finding families who are lying about their address to get into the downtown high school.
"We think it's unfair that the Bridlemile community is being cut out of the Lincoln district, when we believe there are a significant number of students there who should not be there because parents have falsified address information," said Bill Armsten, whose daughter graduated from Lincoln High School.
"We would like the district, before they cut Bridlemile out of Lincoln, to provide to our school administrators the tools and resources to identify the cheaters and remove them from Lincoln," Armsten concluded to applause from other parents in the audience.
Chapman: Not Enough Disruption
Parents from Chapman Elementary, on the other hand, pushed the district to make bigger changes than what's currently proposed in the two scenarios. They contend boundary changes won't go far enough to relieve overcrowding at the school.
Chapman parents describe a school where every possible space is being used.
"Closets are offices," said parent Mary Peveto. "Last year, my daughter was one of 48 children placed in a basement room with two teachers. The distractions, the chaos of the classroom ... took a toll on her emotionally and academically.
"On top of those conditions, twice, children had to be evacuated due to overpowering fumes from exhaust," she said. "I'm so sad to hear this year there are 64 students in that basement room."
Chapman parents say the boundary change would remove only 87 students, and isn't factoring in residential growth underway, and planned, in inner Northwest Portland.
Chapman Parent-Teacher Association president Rosie Platt counts 47 children who have enrolled at Chapman from "The Ramona" — an affordable housing building that opened four years ago. She said 4,500 more units are proposed in the area.
Platt offered four possible solutions that had the backing of the Chapman PTA board (in order of preference): turning the Metropolitan Learning Center into a neighborhood elementary school, opening East Sylvan as an elementary school, make much more significant boundary changes than currently proposed, and/or use space at The Ramona, where there's a pre-school program, into a home for kindergarten.
Skyline: Slow Down
Parents from Skyline K-8 — a small, almost rural school on the northwestern edge of the district — contended the district really should leave Skyline alone.
"The idea that we fit into the rest of the district, where you say you can't have a K-8 if it's not this size, we wouldn't have a K-5," said Stacy Reeves, a Skyline K-8 parent. "I would really like to request that we pull Skyline out and make an intelligent decision on the merits of Skyline."
Skyline sixth grader Amelie Baker compared Portland's district-wide enrollment efforts to a major remodel of a home. She said schools — like rooms — serve different functions.
"When remodeling a building, you don't demolish the whole thing," Amelie said. "You look individually at each room, and see what it needs. Sometimes a room looks like it needs to be moved, but if you look closely and see that the room is warmed and the glow gives a perfect light ... Skyline is that room."
Another parent suggested the district could expand Skyline, the boundary and the building, possibly, to increase the school's ethnic diversity.
Hayhurst: Hurry Up
A few parents from the Hayhurst school campus — a building shared by an elementary neighborhood school and a magnet K-8 program — also showed up Monday night. At times, district officials tell parents that some changes could happen in fall 2016, but there are certain moves that can't happen until a year later.
Hayhurst parent Tina Oliver pressed for any fix to happen quickly.
"If this is what's going to happen, please do it now, and not later," said Oliver, the mother of a third grader. "If we do it this fall, we're going to be OK."
Another parent raised a broader issue about Odyssey — Hayhurst's magnet, or focus option, program. It's a history and social science themed program, and is the only non-language magnet program on the west side. More students apply for it than can fit.
"I don't think it's right, that due to the roll of the dice, that my kids were able to get into the Odyssey program. There should be more focus option programs for everyone on the west side," said Christopher Silkie, a parent of a student at Hayhurst.
Portland Public Schools has proposed opening two schools on the east side — Kellogg and Tubman — and one on the west side — East Sylvan, as a home for the Odyssey program. Silkie wanted to know about another elementary building that closed last decade, but was leased for a time by the neighboring Riverdale School District.
"I'm really curious what the plan is for Smith School?" Silkie asked. "Because what is happening right now, there are people going across I-5 to Markham (Elementary), yet the school is sitting mothballed, deteriorating, right next to them."
Portland Public Schools has six more community meetings on the schedule, including a newly-scheduled meeting Tuesday, Nov. 24 at King School in Northeast Portland.
The district-wide Boundary Review Advisory Committee meets this Thursday.