A community is up in arms after the parent-teacher association at a Portland, Ore. elementary school held a fundraiser in which parents were able to bid on teachers for their children — all with the blessing of the school’s principal.
“This is obviously a horrible lapse in judgment and just outrageous to everyone,” said Suzanne Cohen, president of the Portland Association of Teachers, about the Markham Elementary School event that took place on March 2, according to local NBC affiliate KGW8. “It was really offensive to the educators there, it felt very hurtful, it really undermined them, it put teachers up on an auctioning block, like that’s disgusting.”
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A parent reportedly came up with the exploitative idea to place potential instructors for each grade up for auction at the fundraiser, then got approval from Principal Shawn Garnett. The fundraiser was run by mostly student volunteers, and was intended to raise money for Chromebooks, math software, literacy support materials, sensory support tools, library books, English-language learning programs, art supplies, field trips, music equipment, cafeteria supplies and much more, according to the PTA.
Teachers apparently went along with the stunt, but afterward raised concerns about whether or not it was fair. They even requested that the PTA issue a refund to the parents involved, six of whom ultimately bid a total of $1,300 at the auction.
The Markham Elementary School PTA and Portland Public School District have since apologized for the auction. The PTA’s lengthy mea culpa read, in part:
“Like many public school PTAs and foundations in Oregon, Markham Elementary School PTA conducted a fundraiser auction on March 2, 2019 to raise funds to supplement the insufficient funding that is provided by the state and federal government. Markham recently lost its Title 1 status, so the funding gap was even greater this year than in years past.
“During the event … a parent proposed the idea to the school’s principal, who was in attendance, that the auction include the opportunity for parents in each grade to choose their child’s teacher for the following year. The principal approved, and auction leadership included it in the live auction … When the PTA received notice of the teachers’ concerns from the principal and the request from the teachers to refund the item and cancel its sale, the PTA did so promptly and apologized. The PTA highly values the opinions of the teachers and principal and our mission is to support them in the work they are doing with Markham’s students.”
“This shouldn’t have happened,” added Portland Public Schools spokesman Harry Esteve. “It understandably upset staff at Markham, and it doesn’t in any way align with what we know is the appropriate way to determine classes and teachers.
“The principal realizes that she made a spur-of-the-moment mistake by agreeing to a request to allow families to bid on specific teachers for their students, and she has apologized to her staff. The PTA, which hosted the auction, also has apologized and returned the money.”
Principal Garnett also apologized, saying, the event “has caused some hurt feelings.” And at least one parent, Cari Carr, wanted to set the record straight, telling Fox 12, “We don’t have any bad teachers. There are no teachers that people are trying to avoid.”
The teachers have reportedly accepted the apologies and the actions taken to rectify the situation. One teacher told KGW8, “No school is perfect, everyone makes mistakes, and they are all just trying to move on from this.”
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