Save Portland PE

Motivated citizens can get a lot done, even with precious little time. One of the most exhilarating projects we’ve worked on came from a coalition that wanted to safeguard funding for physical education in Portland’s public elementary schools. As the school board faced a 2010 revenue shortfall, this unfortunate option for cutting the budget was on the table.

saveWe are all aware that sedentary, screen-based lifestyles are detrimental to our health, no matter what our age. And with the childhood-obesity epidemic, elimination of PE could only be a negative, even leading to drastic long-term affects on the health of Portland’s youngest residents.

The coalition, which included the Oregon Medical Association, the Trail Blazers, Nike and Providence Health & Services, wanted to mitigate this possibility, and needed to quickly get its voice heard as the school board’s vote on the budget was coming up fast.

A masterstroke of the effort was commissioning a public opinion poll by renowned Oregon firm Davis, Hibbitts & Midghal, to find out just what the public thought about the proposed budget cuts to PE. A key callout of that survey: 86 percent strongly believed PE was absolutely necessary in our school system. We shared this information with the Portland media, resulting in a wave of stories about the coalition’s efforts. We also used Facebook and Twitter to marshal interested parties, share information, and encourage people to contact school board members and superintendent Carole Smith.

With the buzz building, the coalition then moved its sights to the actual school board hearing on the issue. They organized testimony and we helped them produce an op-ed piece that ran in the Oregonian. As the date for the hearing approached, we wrote and designed a full-page newspaper ad encouraging readers to contact the school board. Weinstein PR also brought in our friend Doug Zanger to develop and record radio advertisements for the local market. Working with a media buyer, Run Spot Run, not only got us terrific ad rates and placements with local radio but the stations themselves were so concerned about the thought of cutting PE that their radio personalities took interest and advocated for saving PE during their broadcasts.

Thanks to the power of several instruments—polling, social media, op-ed, public relations, print and radio advertising—the Save Portland PE campaign was a success, and physical education continues in our schools. It was an incredibly visible and effective campaign that brought sufficient pressure to bear on public officials. The funding issues for our schools remain, however, and continue to be one of the great challenges for us as a community.