Making the grade

By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  January 26, 2011

The report also found a lack of consistency and accountability in booster-club funding, making it difficult to evaluate whether boys and girls teams get equitable funding from these sources.

Neither of these problems came as a surprise.

"We knew we had to get a handle on booster clubs," says Mark Terison, chief operating officer for the Portland schools. A plan is in the works, he says, to create two overarching booster organizations — one for each school — rather than specific clubs for individual teams.

As for the baseball-softball disparity, the city of Portland's Athletic Task Force voted earlier this month to make improving the softball fields a top priority, and will likely use capital-improvement money to do so.

Just in time, too. At the end of December, the Boston branch of the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights, which enforces Title IX, sent a letter to Portland Public Schools superintendent Jim Morse.

"I write to advise you that OCR has selected the Portland Public Schools . . . for a compliance review . . . [which] will assess whether athletic benefits and opportunities are provided equally to male and female athletes in the District's athletic program," the letter reads. "It should be emphasized that at this time the OCR has reached no conclusions as to whether a violation of any federal law exists."

The OCR review will likely take place over the next few weeks. The OCR chooses four to eight systems to review per year and, as its letter suggests, being examined does not necessarily indicate a problem exists.

"We typically refrain from detailing why we choose a specific district for a compliance review," says Jim Bradshaw of the federal Department of Education press office. "However, generally speaking, the selection is based on a number of facts — what the data say, what we're hearing in the field, the kind of impact we can have to model good practices for the nation and so forth."

But in this case, the OCR is not responding to any complaint, according to Morse. "They assured me that it was a coincidence," he says, referring to the timing — the letter arrived less than a month before the Drummond Woodsum review was publicized.

Indeed, requesting the audit was impressively proactive, says Lisa Maatz, director of public policy and government relations for the Washington, DC-based American Association of University Women, which advocates for girls' educational equity. And she notes that "it is unusual if a school is completely compliant" — in other words, Portland's discrepancies are not remarkable.

But she also points out that "Title IX doesn't just apply to athletics. I would love to see them continue this work in other areas," Maatz said. "A certain amount of self-policing is a very positive thing."

Deirdre Fulton can be reached at dfulton@phx.com.

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