Open Letter to Portland Public School Board

Ashcreek Neighborhood Association
7688 SW Capitol Hwy
Portland, OR 97219

March 31, 2005

Members of the Portland Public School Board: The Ashcreek Neighborhood Association at its March meeting voted to let the School District #1 Board know we are very disappointed over the decision to close Smith School. The Ashcreek/Crestwood Community, which Smith serviced, accounts for a little over 9% of the entire Southwest Community. Smith School was established on SW 52nd and Marigold in 1957 as a kindergarten through the fifth grade, and was expanded in the early seventies. In the eighties or nineties, Smith’s boundaries were shrunk in order to enhance the number of students at Markham, which had been closed. The students south of Taylors Ferry Road, many of whom walked to Smith, were bussed to Markham. This was detrimental to our community by fragmenting it, and by eliminating an opportunity for healthy exercise for students by walking to school in a safe, quiet neighborhood. Recently the District moved the students in the ESL program from Smith to Hayhurst. Then the Odyssey program opened at Hayhurst attracting twenty-two Smith students. Through incremental actions over the years the District has effectively whittled away making the Smith census as small as it is. The school has been rated “exceptional” in recent years, has attracted tremendous parent participation, is one of the few school buildings which meets seismic code, yet it was chosen to be closed. The Ashcreek/Crestwood Neighborhood has literally lost the heart of its community. Here children could walk safely to school. There is limited traffic in the neighborhood. Now some young students will be expected to attend Markham on busy Capitol Highway, which enjoys the roar and fumes of the I-5 freeway; Capitol Hill which is on busy Spring Garden and a good distance away, has a limited hard surface playground; Maplewood which is located in an almost gated community across Multnomah Blvd. at 45th which is a very dangerous intersection. Southwest Portland is largely residential. In the Ashcreek/Crestwood neighborhood there are three businesses like Fantasy Video, Castle Superstore, and Baxter Auto Parts. There are no buildings for a community meeting place where we can hold meetings, enjoy sporting activities or put on a fundraiser. We have to drive three to four miles to the Multnomah Arts Center. Again, the School District – to save money – closed their schools to Community Groups. This unfortunate effect literally insured that residents who did not have children would vote NO on school levy issues. Schools need to be open and reach out to Community residents of all ages so they might not only use the facilities but help enhance educational programs and give monies. Smith was a school that has been upgraded seismically, where the Portland Parks Bureau had built three soccer fields, where the parents had raised money for playground equipment where there was none. The school also opened its arms to resident volunteers to read to students, to mentor them and create that wonderful feeling between the intelligent senior and the growing child. Perhaps one of the most critical situations is that the school building and grounds would be needed in case of a disaster, such as an earthquake, a fire, a terrorist attack. The Community is developing Neighborhood Emergency Teams (NET) sponsored and promoted by the Portland Fire Bureau and the Portland Office of Emergency Management. Having that facility available is critical to our community. The District has closed Terwilliger, Multnomah, and Collins View Elementary Schools in Southwest. Closing too many schools means more expensive bussing, parents sending their children to private schools which have proliferated, home schooling and some even relocating to another school district. Your decision to close these schools demonstrates a lack of creative thinking, and a total disregard for the impact it makes on the local community and the impression it makes on voters (who will soon be asked to pass a new school operating levy). This kind of short-sighted, crisis management is ultimately self-defeating. We ask you to reconsider your decision, to sit down with us to explore more viable options for a sustainable future for the District. Together it is possible to come up with better solutions. You need to look no farther than the current City of Portland budget process to see that it is possible to do more with less. All it takes is a willingness to be creative, think “outside the box,” and involve the community.

– Ashcreek Neighborhood Association