City Commissioner Erik Sten, sealed the deal just before leaving office earlier this month.
$19 million in taxpayer money would be diverted from the River District urban renewal area and sent to David Douglas School District on the outskirts of town. The school district has faced constant change over the past decade as developers and working-class families fled inner Portland’s expensive housing prices.
Government watchdogs wondered whether the deal was legal. Critics questioned whether David Douglas really needed the money, especially when its voters turned down a bond to build the school two years ago. Laws governing urban renewal don’t explicitly permit or prohibit satellite districts. Sten said the only legal issue he saw was that the rural area planned for the new school may not meet the definition of “blighted.”
Portland school board members said the city made the deal without notifying them in advance. Confidence in the city was rocked by giving such a large gift to one district in Portland when the needs are so strong in every district. Reynolds Superintendent said there should be “a clear lens through which we look at this that has transparency and some sort of value-based decision-making as far as schools, needs and responsiveness. At Gilbert Park Elementary a parent worries about overcrowding in all high-density areas…”How dare they get off making decisions about community without considering our children?”