My husband and I recently attended the annual auction at our local school. It was a good event. The parent volunteers who planned it did a great job. It had a groovy theme. Many teachers and staff were in attendance, as were many parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends of the students. The food was good, the wine was fine. And a lot of money was raised.
But two things about the auction have not sat well with me. One, I hate the fact that here in Portland (and likely in other places) we have auctions to raise money to pay for things like a music teacher, or this year, for I-pads for the students. (Not one per student, but about two dozen; this is a public school after all.) I won’t spend this post talking about funding public education, although I could.
The thing that really did not sit well with me was the class divide at the auction, and the bigger problem it points out. It’s not cheap (at least by my standards) to go this thing. It’s $50 per ticket, and for some families in our school, that is simply too much. And then once you get there, there are lovely items to bid on at the silent auction (another $25 minimum), free wine but beer and cocktails to pay for, and then the live auction, which was great, but the $4,800 (not including air fare) Canyon Ranch weekend for two was beyond our means.
I hate the fact that not all the families at the school could afford to participate even if they wanted to. But it points to a larger issue about gentrification in our neighborhood, captured by the Fifth Grade Art Project.
Most classes at the school made an art object for the auction; some were part of the silent auction, some were part of the live auction. Three of the kindergarten classes had items in the live auction. They were darling, each of them. The kids and their teachers did a great job with them. One of them was hot – it was quite the bidding war and it went for an astounding $3,800. And that is great, great for the student artists, great for the school.
Then the fifth grade art project went up for bid. I thought it was just as great as the kindergarteners’. Starting bid: $500. No takers. Not a one. None. Nobody. Nadie. Pas de personne. So the auctioneer lowered the opening bid: $200. I was crushed. I felt so awful for those fifth graders and their parents. A few paddles raised, and it went for $250.
And here’s what my husband said: it’s all about the changing demographics in our neighborhood. Two years ago we bought a home in a nice neighborhood that’s on the upswing; we could not afford to buy it now. Younger families with more money are moving in, and moving out are families that are a little older who can no longer afford the upkeep or the property taxes. They move out, out east, out north, where the prices are still manageable and the taxes not exorbitant. They move out, and maybe don’t even bother to buy but just rent.
There’s a developer at work in our up-and-coming neighborhood, a guy who takes modest, 1,200 square-foot bungalows, tears down all but one wall (so that it can be considered a “remodel”) then builds up a 4,000 square foot house on a lot smaller than a quarter acre. One of those went up down the street from us, and has sold for twice what our house is worth.
I love our neighborhood and I love our school. I love the cherry trees in bloom, and the vegetable gardens people plant in their front yards. I love the friendliness of the place. I love our school. I love the kids and the teachers and I love the fact that in a not-very-diverse Portland, there is diversity of race and class. But I don’t like the changes that are happening, maybe because they all feel out of control. And maybe because we are part of the problem. We bought our house from a flipper, who bought it out of a foreclosure, prettied it up, and sold it for a nice profit. We have met the enemy….
Back to the auction.
Every year at this event during the live auction there is a special appeal. This year the appeal was for I-pads. The staff made a fantastic video showing 1) how outdated the current computers were (oooo! a 1990’s Mac!) and 2) the ways that I-pads could help the educational process especially among the youngest learners. And the auction began. First category: those willing to make a gift of $1,000.
And the paddles went up – about ten of them. I had tears in my eyes, despite all my misgivings about the event. I had tears in my eyes because I thought, “Oh thank God, these kids are going to have a chance.” Next category: $500. Another $3,000. Next category: $100. I looked at my husband, and up went our paddle. All in all, about $30,000 was raised in this special appeal for I-pads. I still get teary thinking about it. These kids – all of them – are going to have a chance.
But will they be able to stay in the neighborhood?