By Tina-Marie Baskin
As a parent of a Portland Public Schools student, volunteer and paid tutor in the district, I read with dismay Dan Lavey’s opinion piece, “Political leadership, fans needed to bring baseball to Portland” (May 9). Lavey assumes we Portlanders agree with him that a Major League Baseball team is good for Portland, so good in fact, that we should be eager to chip in taxpayer dollars for the $1 billion cost of a stadium. That’s right, $1 billion. Lavey doesn’t see any problem with that figure. In fact, he glosses over any argument characterizing it as a “combustible mix” that can be overcome with “five ingredients.” Economic studies of taxpayer subsidized stadiums have shown a drain on scarce public funds. There are smarter civic investments we could make.
Given that our high school graduation rate is one of the worst in the nation, what could be done in the public school system with a stadium-sized investment? Lavey has his “five ingredients,” here are mine.
Partner with private business, and investors. The Oregon Business Plan partners argue for a private/public partnership to “improve education outcomes, boost graduation rates and create better pathways to post-secondary education and family-wage jobs.” (“Starting the serious work to turn Oregon around,” April 22, 2018). They are on the right track but talk of ballparks could seem more appealing. I hope businesses and investors think longer term. Educated students become a skilled workforce. Amazon’s recent search for a second headquarters shows that a trained workforce attracts economic development and jobs.
Create a business-led scholarship fund. I think about the students I work with who have great potential but won’t attend post-secondary education because of lack of financial support. Tuition and fees to attend a public four-year university have jumped 275 percentsince 2000. How about creating more business-led scholarships for students? Oregon has fallen to the bottom tier nationally of states providing financial support for its neediest students. I cannot imagine supporting a project that would be prioritized over education.
Fix school infrastructure. Make the classroom a place where students want to be. When I enter dark, dilapidated school buildings that lack proper ventilation, that have asbestos, that contain lead in the water, it seems unimaginable to build a stadium within view of our deteriorating schools. I find it ironic that one of the considered locations for the ballpark is the Portland Public School headquarters. I was in a classroom recently and heard the teacher apologize for the sweltering heat that made the room unbearable and concentrating a challenge. As students frequently asked to be excused to get water which was from (often empty) bottled dispensers, the teacher told me that although the windows were measured for heat-reducing blinds 6 months ago the order still had not been fulfilled. How much could it cost to buy blinds for four windows?
Reduce class size by hiring more teachers. Class crowding will continue to get worse in the district as more people move to the city. Additionally, create a volunteer stipend. We should think about the volunteers who not only support the schools but the many in-school programs that depend on them. I work as a tutor through the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program, which helps prepare middle and high school students for college. Through that work, I spend time with volunteers who spend 30 hour weeks helping over-burdened teachers. They are dedicated, but we end up losing a lot of talent that could be retained if there was a way they could be compensated.
Support students. I liked Lavey’s final ingredient: “authentic effective grassroots voices.” He was referencing the power of the Timbers Army to get Major League Soccer to Portland. I don’t have a Timbers Army behind me or a fight song but I know there are many people out there who want to improve our kids’ education. I hope that this opinion speaks to them and encourages others to advocate for our students. Write letters. Talk to education leaders. Start a campaign to make changes. I think that investing in students’ education to create an employable workforce is a better return on investment than Lavey’s “daydream of a summer evening at the ballpark.” Which dream would you rather invest in?