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Albina Highway Covers
Lisa Loving of The Skanner News
Published: 27 April 2012
Tubman mom Jyothi Pulla, at right, chats with Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, at left, along with a group of students about the Tubman STEM school closure during a reception for the city's new Office of Equity and Diversity held earlier this month. Fritz testified on the school's behalf before the Portland Public Schools board, as did State Sen. Chip Shields and Rep. Lew Frederick.


Multiple school protests are scheduled over the next week and a half against $27.5 million in Portland Public Schools cuts that, parents, educators and students say, are decimating the Jefferson High School cluster and crippling schools district-wide.

Efforts by some to bring their concerns to Gov. John Kitzhaber appear to have hit a brick wall as well, a critical issue because much of the Portland schools' budget crisis was handed down by state officials who have cut nearly $50 million from PPS since last year.

On May 1 a student strike is scheduled including a march on the Portland Public Schools offices at 501 N. Dixon, with students planning to blockade the building's parking lot and doors at 7:30 a.m.

That event is a prelude to a larger march on City Hall, May 11, called the "UPSET" march, which started out as a Grant High School student and educator protest but its website shows it is spreading around the district.

That page now includes links to news stories on other schools around the nation staging walkouts against their district budget cuts as well.

Meanwhile, also May 11, supporters of the Tubman Young Women's Leadership Academy are putting together a "Tubman Underground Railroad" march leading from City Hall back to the Tubman school, with the goal of bringing city officials back for its "Tubman Day" event to tour the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) facility that has already been doomed to closure by a Monday school board vote this week, along with Humboldt Elementary School.

Portland Public Schools plans its final vote on the rest of the district's budget May 14, including 110 teacher layoffs, and 34 central office job cuts, as well as school support including the entire bi-lingual community engagement staff serving immigrant and refugee communities.

Superintendent Carol Smith's budget memo about the cuts, issued April 2, is called "New budget reality: grappling with sustained disinvestment in education."

May 1 strike organizers Paul Wells, a Grant High graduate, and Lena Wright, a Beloit College student now interning for the Bus Project, have written on the event's Facebook page that the first planned action is symbolic but has a larger goal.

"Why shutdown? Because we need to show that we will not stand by as another budget cutting austerity measure is pushed through as we have seen before in the past. Because we need to show that we mean business and that we won't settle till solutions are found," the Students on STRIKE! Facebook page says.

"Why PPS Headquarters? Obviously PPS isn't the source of the problem. There are larger economic and political reasons why we are being forced (into) these budget cuts," the page says.

Over at the "UPSET" website, organizers framed a history of the current situation.

"We have for too long simply accepted the cuts and continued as best we can. Regrettably, the cuts have gone too far.

"We are already at a point where we all know that our students are not receiving the education that they need. This sacrificed education is hurting our students, our families, our community, and our state.

"If we continue to accept cuts to education, or even the status quo in education funding, we do so knowing that we are responsible for damaging our state's future economy and security," the "UPSET" website says.

Kitzhaber visited the Center for Self Enhancement this week for a regularly-scheduled meeting with Black community leaders, an SEI staff member confirmed. There, a number of Tubman students approached the governor with petitions and information materials, but, Jyothi Pulla wrote in an Internet posting, Kitzhaber was unresponsive.

"Some people here suggested approaching the Governor," Pulla wrote. "So the girls from Tubman went up and spoke to him when he was at SEI today, and asked him if he could do something to reverse this decision to close.  

"They gave him the letters of complaint, the intent to enroll, and he said the school board is an independent body, and he cannot do anything," Pulla wrote.

"Harriet Tubman really feels like the unwanted girl child in India. I have heard people tell me that the community never wanted it and it was thrust on the community by (former school superintendent) Vicki Phillips, and she abandoned it. But it is here, and it is yours, and it is wanting to thrive. 

"I have heard people ask me, what about the (Jefferson) boy's academy, why did no one step up when that died," Jyothi wrote. "I guess if this too were aborted in the beginning like the boy's academy, probably the pain would have been less, but this one just happened to live. And was just beginning to thrive..."

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