Steve Buel, a member of the Portland School Board, last night challenged a decision by fellow board members to send colleague Greg Belisle to the National Summit for Courageous Conversation in New Orleans next week, questioning Superintendent Carole Smith on how much it would cost to send Belisle and about 75 PPS teachers and administrators to the five-day equity event.
The response from Smith? I'll get back to you. "I don't have it right here," Smith told Buel, who sparked the discussion after asking to have the resolution on Belisle's trip moved from the business agenda. (Board members typically don't discuss items on the business agenda.)
Several board members did not appear to appreciate Buel's inquiries. Board member Ruth Adkins tried to limit Buel's questions to those focused on just Belisle's trip. But Buel said he couldn't evaluate Belisle's trip without information about total spending.
Last year, WW reported that PPS had spent $2.5 million on the Courageous Conversations program that teaches improved interracial dialogue. That includes $1.2 million to the consulting group that runs the program and $1.3 million for other costs, including travel to conferences.
For the New Orleans conference, not all of the money comes out of accounts the district controls, Smith noted. Teachers have professional development accounts—$1,500 every three years—that they can tap when they want to pay for conferences.
The program for the New Orleans conference is peppered with Portland teachers and administrators, including two from Irvington K-8 School who will discuss reducing discipline disparities.
Three years ago, 89 percent of discipline cases at Irvington involved students of color, although they made up only 47 percent of the student population. In 2013-14, 59 percent of cases involved students of color. "It still doesn't match our demographics, but we're much closer than we were before," Kathleen Ellwood told WW last week.
Irvington may be an example of the district's strides. However, PPS started the school year under sanctions from the state for disparities in long-term discipline among black special education students and the general population.
The school board approved Belisle's travel 5-1, with member Matt Morton absent. It appears to have been a vote in name only, however, as it is unlikely the school district waited until last night to plan a trip that will take place next week.
Several board members, including Adkins and Belisle, have traveled to Courageous Conversation conferences before and called them incredibly valuable.
Footnote: The Courageous Conversation discussion wasn't the only disagreement of the night. The Oregonian has an account of tense talks over the district's plans for spending $9.5 million.