Portland School Board co-chairwomen Ruth Adkins and Trudy Sargent are often at odds with one another.
So it came as no surprise when Adkins and Sargent, who actively supported Adkins’ opponent in the 2007 School Board election, sparred relentlessly at Monday night’s board meeting.
What is surprising is that the two rivals, who were supposed to be leading a constructive discussion of Superintendent Carole Smith’s proposed high-school redesign, would wait Roguishly until the board’s Feb. 22 meeting (more than 18 months into the process) to air publicly their conflicting positions.
To wit: Adkins made it clear Monday night she wasn’t ready to close any of Portland Public Schools’ nine neighborhood high-school campuses. Sargent, on the other hand, said she was uncomfortable suggesting PPS could sustain comprehensive programs on each of those campuses going forward.
If anyone believes the two board members didn’t have those same opinions in 2008 when the superintendent started this belabored public process, the Rogue Desk has club seat tickets to the Portland Beavers’ 2012 season for sale.
Don’t get us wrong. It is absolutely fine to disagree. Except this public squabble has erupted far too late—months after the School Board first learned Smith would propose closing some neighborhood campuses.
Especially Rogue-worthy were Adkins’ tactics Monday night. For nearly two hours under her co-direction, the board went almost line by line through Smith’s 10-page resolution enumerating the redesign’s values of equity and equal opportunity. Rather than come out and state her opposition to the overall concept at the outset, Adkins quibbled with word choice for much of the discussion. She wanted more language describing the various ways students learn (as with hands-on experiments, for example). Among other things, she also wanted to note the importance of strong principals and culturally competent staff. This is far from a comprehensive list.
“Sausage,” Zeke Smith, the superintendent’s chief of staff, said at one point during the discussion. “It’s all about sausage.”
He was attempting a joke that played off the quip about laws being “like sausages” and that it’s better not to see either being made. But it won’t be funny if after months of silence the board ends up with a vote in two weeks that’s a divisive 4-3 split on the resolution. That would only repeat the board’s unfortunate history of divisive votes on former Superintendent Vicki Phillips’ K-8 reforms. And that’s exactly what the 18-month public process on high schools aimed to avoid.
It’s up to the two co-chairs to lead the board in a constructive direction on this contentious issue. Monday night’s performance gives us no confidence they can do that.