Portland Public Schools Zone 4
Martin Gonzalez - NonpartisanPortland Public Schools is the largest district in Oregon, serving just over 47,500 students in 81 buildings. The district’s $487 million general fund budget for next year is larger than the city of Portland’s or TriMet’s. A seven-member elected board hires the superintendent, approves district policies and sets the budget. In May, three seats are up for grabs; incumbent Pam Knowles, who represents Northeast Portland, faces no opposition.
The district continues to grapple with a persistent achievement gap between white students and a growing minority population, and subpar graduation rates in PPS, where nearly half the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The administration and the Portland Association of Teachers began negotiating the teachers’ contract mid-April. Nobody should be surprised if those talks end six months from now in an impasse.
Portland kids need stronger leadership from their School Board. Martin Gonzalez started slowly in his role as a PPS director, after being appointed to the board in this North Portland district in 2008. But he’s grown into the role.
A director of multicultural programs for TriMet, Gonzalez has nudged the district into big changes in bilingual education, including dumping ineffective leaders and expanding immersion programs.
Gonzalez, the only Latino on the board, is clearly a strong voice for the district’s growing Latino student body (up from 11 percent of students a decade ago to 16 percent today).
We give his opponent, Steve Buel, credit. Buel previously served on the board from 1979 to 1983, when he helped write PPS’s desegregation policy.
Buel has since been trying to make a comeback—this is his second try in recent years, both against Gonzalez.
A co-founder of the new group Oregon Save Our Schools, Buel is a critic of the district’s leadership, which he says focuses too much on testing and does too little for low-income students. On those points, we think he’s right.
But Buel, during our endorsement interview, was short on reasons he would make a better director than Gonzalez, and on specifics about what he would seek to do on the School Board.
It’s a close call for us: We gave more weight to the need for attention to the district’s diversity, and give the nod to Gonzalez.