My View: Parents say 'stable' school budget does disservice to high schoolers

This year, in a budget that Portland Public Schools Superintendent Carole Smith is claiming is “stable,” she is cutting high school funding again.

This makes a bad situation adopted by the School Board two years ago even worse, with more high school teacher staffing cuts and more reductions in instruction time.

Two years ago the superintendent and the current School Board decided to balance the budget by significantly cutting high school teaching positions. The impact of that staff reduction was hidden by simultaneously changing from a seven-period day to an eight-period day. But our students and teachers felt the impact:

In 2010, students on average got instruction for 89 percent of the school day.

In 2012, students on average got instruction for 80 percent of the school day.

The loss of instruction is even more alarming when we look at it by grade level: It ranges from minus 3 percent for freshman students to minus 11 percent for seniors.

The average senior in PPS only goes to school for 66 percent of the day — and that’s the average.

In 2010, 50 percent of students had a full day.

In 2012, 17 percent of students had a full day.

We need to be able to offer all students a full day of classes. To do this, we need to restore teaching positions at all of our high schools.

What is the impact of a few million dollars saved by cutting 44 classroom teachers? The decision confused families, alienated teachers, delivered a severe blow to our first capital bond and, worst of all, shortened the high school year by the equivalent of 21 to 43 days of in-class time for most students.

Interestingly, the class of 2015 — the first to experience the altered schedule — was in kindergarten the year PPS panicked parents and teachers with the announcement that it had to lop five weeks off the school year. The entire city mobilized and averted that crisis, and we’ve been doing that repeatedly for more than a decade.

These kindergartners are now sophomores, and they have known nothing but program cuts and springtime anxiety about the stability of their various schools. The latest PPS proposal has them poised to enter their junior year — arguably one of the most important of their K-12 career — with limited access to classes. Most will literally be prohibited from taking a full day of classes.

What does this say to them about the importance of pursuing knowledge?

Under the proposed budget, students would limp out of high school with transcripts that simply couldn’t compete nationally and certainly not internationally. Under the proposed budget, younger students would be warehoused into mandated study halls (where purported “academic time” would be supervised by school monitors and would be nothing more than wasted time that would revolve around texting, sleeping or tomfoolery).

But perhaps what would be worst is the dismissal of students as early as 12:30 in the afternoon, perpetuating the idea that time spent in school is anything but precious.

And, this is not just about those students that are college bound. All students need to get everything they can out of high school. This may be their last educational stop before entering the work force, where required and, all too often, remedial classes in math, language arts and science will not be available to them as they compete for apprenticeships, training programs and entry-level positions.

We have an obligation to restore our high school schedules. We have an obligation to show these students that we value education and that quality instructional hours are not spent in holding pens or hanging out. We have a responsibility to teach them the value of time and not that leaving early and showing up late are best practices.

Please join parents from across Portland who refuse to see our children’s educational opportunities decimated year after year. Contact the School Board and demand that the PPS budget be revised to put students first. No more blockades to learning. No more shutting them out of class. No more impediments to their futures.

Adding back 58 classroom teachers to ensure that all of our schools can provide a full school day for all students is the only choice. Anything short of that is a confirmed breach of commitment to these students.

We are about to send these young women and men out into the wider arena. This is our last chance to give students back what was taken from them in 2010.

Mike Rosen, the legislative chairman of the Cleveland High School PTA, wrote this piece on behalf of the Coalitions of Northeast, Southeast and Wilson-Lincoln Parents.

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