Portland Public Schools has proposed assigning nearly 1,000 students to a different elementary or middle school beginning next fall. Westside parents have another idea.
They want a new school—built with fees the city collects from real-estate developers.
Currently, those fees (known by the clunky title of "systems developmenyt charges") go to parks, sewer, water and transit infrastructure improvements necessary to accommodate more Portland residents.
Parents say the Portland construction boom offers the perfect opportunity to pay for a school.
"The window to collect this is closing," said Demian Heald, a developer who lives in the Council Crest neighborhood and is a father of three children all of whom would be affected by the boundary change. "We all hate the construction now, but the terrifying thing is it will stop at some point."
For 14 months, a committee advising PPS superintendent Carole Smith has been working on new boundaries to balance enrollments at city schools—alleviating overcrowding in some neighborhoods and underenrollment elsewhere in the district.
Earlier this month, after receiving new projections for higher enrollment at Northwest's Chapman Elementary, PPS redrew the proposed map for the westside.
Some students who attend the overcrowded Chapman Elementary in Northwest could be moved to Ainsworth Elementary. Students at Ainsworth may be moved out to Bridlemile and Rieke, and the changes cascade on southward.
A group called the Coalition of Concerned Voting Parents suggest that PPS should instead build a new school in the Pearl District or Slabtown neighborhoods.
But there's at least one key obstacle to the parents' proposal. It's illegal.
State law lays out that the developer fees — what are formally called system development charges — can be collected only for parks, water, sewer, flood control and transportation.
In Portland, developers pay on the order of $15,000 to $20,000 for a single apartment or home in systems development charges.
Westside parents are asking the city to step in and find a way to use the developers' fees for schools, nonetheless.
"We, The Coalition Of Concerned Voting Parents, formally ask that the City Leadership change the allocation of SDCs and that a portion of SDC funds be used to build a new west side elementary school, TODAY," reads a petition signed by 815 on change.org.
In 2007, the state legislature took a first step toward helping schools collect money from developers, allowing districts to collect a separate tax. But school districts can collect much less than the city: There's a cap of $25,000 per apartment building, according to PPS.