My Testimony at the Portland Public School Board Meeting

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Good evening. I’m Julia DeGraw, I live in the Southeast Portland Montavilla neighborhood and I’m running for Portland City Council, Position 2. When I initially attended a Portland Public School Board meeting with the intent to give public testimony regarding my concern about the Portland Teachers Association going far too long without a contract I was turned away. It was at the next month’s meeting that I was informed I would need to sign up, weeks in advance, to speak at some future undetermined PPS board meeting date.

This whole process struck me as undemocratic and shuts public voices out of timely issues that the PPS Board covers at its monthly meetings. I urge the Board to consider opening up the public comment period and making the process published and transparent, so more members of the public can testify on the important timely issues being covered. Most democratic public institutions have this.

As I mentioned, my initial interest for testifying was my concern that Portland Teachers have been without a contract for 556 days. Regardless of what the issues are surrounding the contract negotiations, it is unacceptable that they have gone over this long without a contract.

I attended public schools K-12, growing up here in the Portland metro area. I was lucky to have had teachers who helped me believe in myself and my own potential, I can honestly say that I am the person I am today because of the support I got at key moments in my youth from those special teachers who believed in me. It was because of a high school science teacher that I went on to become an environmental and social justice organizer. He made me realize that I could make a living following my dreams to make the world a better place. I realize that may sound idealistic but it’s actually true.

I know that Portland teachers strive to be life-changers (like my high school science teacher) in their students’ lives. How can they be expected to do this if they can’t even count on something as stabilizing as a fair contract? Portland teachers are not asking for too much and I urge you to work with them to come up with a fair contract that: ensures teachers’ salaries and benefits are competitive to help us recruit and retain high quality teachers, reduces class sizes, and offers greater support for special education needs and access to services.

Which leads me to my final point, I signed on to the letter from teachers urging Mary Pearson to protect the Pioneer Program. Pitting one quality program against another is not acceptable and to split the Pioneer services into two campuses, according to your own teachers who are experts in this area, would be more detrimental to Pioneer students than splitting the campus for the ACCESS students. Both programs ultimately each need a building – making it clear there is no immediate perfect solution available to this problem. However, solving it at the expense of the most vulnerable and underrepresented students in the PPS system seems short-sighted and wrong. I urge you to reconsider the decision to split up the Pioneer program. Thank you for the opportunity to speak on these important issues tonight.