David Douglas’ top educator talks frankly about school district’s dilemmas

Find out what Superintendent Don Grotting said – pulling no punches, as he described the state of the David Douglas School District – at November’s Midway Business Association meeting …

Between songs from the David Douglas High Troubadours, Christopher Silva, the school’s Choral Director, tells about their vocal program. They’ll be back on December 14 at their annual Holiday Party.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Business crime statistics, David Douglas Schools’ budget situation, and neighborhood updates, were the topics presented at the meeting of the Midway Business Association (MBA) on November 9 at the Pizza Baron Restaurant.

Before the formal program began, members and visitors were treated to a performance by the David Douglas High Troubadours choir. The youthful musicians performed traditional and jazz tunes with style and panache.

After introductions, the area’s Portland Police Bureau Neighborhood Response Officers told how the Bureau is working to reduce the number of business and residential burglaries in the area.

Superintendent of the David Douglas School District, Don Grotting, introduces himself to attendees at the Midway Business Association.

Then, the guest speaker – Don Grotting, Superintendent of the David Douglas School District – introduced himself.

Grotting recounted his background (see our past story that details Grotting’s past CLICK HERE), and then said that he believed that the DDS Board selected him to fill Barbara Rommel’s post – the first time they’d hired a superintendent from outside the district – because of the his record of achievement with the Nyssa, Oregon, schools.

“We are a working-class community, with lots of diversity,” Grotting said. “Things are going relatively well in the last four months I’ve been in the district.”

Turning to the district’s finances, Grotting said, “As a district I thought they had money in the bank; they do. As it turned out, not as much as I thought. There was $ 27 million in the bank five years ago; and now there’s $5 million in the bank.”

DDS operates with a $100 million budget, Grotting explained. “In the next biennium, with PERS costs included and one-time ‘stimulus’ funding going away, we’re looking at a $10 million deficit. There will have to be some significant reductions in service and staffing if we are to operate on the funding we get from the State.”

He praised the school board – and area residents – for not letting the district be “gobbled up” by Portland Public Schools. “But, there are some real challenges ahead for DDS. My goals are to improve student achievement – and meet the budget.”

The district has about 1,300 employees – about half of whom are educational staff, with the remainder providing services such as transportation, maintenance, and food service.

“We’re working to find ways, in these tough times, to become more efficient,” Grotting assured the group. “Gresham/Barlow, Remolds, and Centennial – all of those have cut staffing and have instituted furlough days. DDS has put that off. But now, there will be critical decisions made.”

Tightening budgets, a growing student population, and increased diversity are challenges the district now faces, Don Grotting says.

Tells of a burgeoning, diverse student base
DDS continues to grow in terms of student population, the superintendent observed. “With 10,500 students attending ten elementary schools, three middle schools, and the largest high school in the State – that’s a lot of students. We also operate the alternate high school, Fir Ridge – a charter school, and stand-alone kindergarten.”

He added that the district’s high school students come from homes in which 76 languages or dialects are spoken; an average of 26 languages are spoken in any given grade school. About 54% of the district student body currently could be considered “white, middle-class”, but that percentage is declining, and will soon rank below 50% the student population. And, Grotting pointed out, the district has the highest rate of free and reduced lunch eligible students in the three-county area.

Music, sports programs scrutinized
“We have one of the premiere band and music programs in the nation,” Grotting said; but, “We’re looking at some of those programs – operated [from] grade through high school – to go away.”

He added that while the district has a “community sports model”, students haven’t been able to compete. “Frankly, there are no teams to play [from other districts which have disbanded sports programs]. Our middle schools have about 900 kids; and there are a dozen or so teams. We can’t pay transportation costs to get them to the games; the parents must take them.”

Asked about saving money by going to a “4-day week”, Grotting responded, “At Nyssa, we went to a 4.5 day week. But have to negotiate with the union; 195 days a year is contracted. And, all service people are hourly; they can least afford any pay cuts. There are some savings in a 4 or 4.5 day week; yes, we’ve thought about it.”

Grotting addresses questions about Marshall High School, and improving student achievement.

Questions and answers
MBA’s President, Bill Dayton of Pizza Baron, asked if David Douglas has considered taking in disaffected students from the soon-to-be-shuttered Marshall High School.

“There are some parents who want to change boundaries – and incorporate that tax base into the DDS base,” Grotting responded. “The chances of that happening are not good. I don’t see Portland Public Schools releasing what amounts to a $40 million tax base. Also, by statute, a superintendent can’t allow students to attend any school outside their own boundaries.”

MBA’s Secretary David Edwards, of David Edwards Insurance, asked how the district could “boost student achievement – on less money.”

Grotting replied, “We’re now on ‘block schedules’. But, with our populations, it is important to have consistency in core classes every day. Changing how classes are scheduled can help.

“Also, we’re making academics a priority. Nowadays, chances for earning a good income without higher education is almost impossible. Math, reading and writing schools – and showing up for work every day – are important and necessary ‘life skills’.”

Asked if “Advance Placement Courses” will be cut, Grotting commented, “They will be affected, but those programs are a priority with me. We want to give students access to A.P. and college classes. If you are to motivate students to perhaps come out of high school with an AA degree, you’re giving them a great start.”

MBA members thanked Grotting for his frank discussion, and pledged to help the school district as it works through the difficult times ahead.

MBA Holiday party scheduled for December 14
Come learn all about this new business group, dedicated to helping neighbors and businesses improve the southern end of outer East Portland.

From 11:45 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday, December 14th, they’re hosting a Holiday Party. Members, guests, and area business people are invited to enjoy a free lunch, win free door prizes, hear the David Douglas High Troubadours sing, network and meet with other area business people.

It’s at Bill Dayton’s PIZZA BARON Restaurant on SE 122nd Avenue, just south of Division Street.

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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