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School district says increased PERS costs and flawed budget assumptions led to massive shortfall

A proposed $956 million budget released Monday afternoon shows the Beaverton School District plans to cut programs and reduce hundreds of positions in the 2019-20 school year.

Citing spikes in employee retirement costs, flawed budget assumptions, a new pay equity act and less state and federal funding than anticipated, Beaverton School District's budget committee reviewed a 2019-20 spending plan that will see the district decrease overall spending by nearly $60 million, in an effort to address a $35 million deficit.

PMG FILE PHOTO - New BSD superintendent Don Grotting."This is one of the most concerning budgets I've put together," Don Grotting, superintendent of Beaverton schools, told a gymnasium full of teachers and parents Monday night at Merlo Station High School.

In the same breath, he noted the plan was also one of the "most optimistic budgets," saying he hoped to see additional school revenue added in the second year of the biennium, thanks in large part to action and advocacy from educator unions.

But optimism won't be enough to stave off deep cuts the district will have to make now in order to deliver a balanced budget.

PMG PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Sara Schmitt, president of the Beaverton Education Association, addresses budget committee members Monday, April 22 at Merlo Station High School. Teachers turned out in droves to hear a dire message from district officials about proposed budget cuts. The district is planning to cut 308 positions from its current staff of 4,140, including 250 certified positions largely held by teachers and counselors, according to the proposed plan. Administrators warned that the budget numbers have yet to be finalized, but acknowledged plans for "a more conservative" approach to budgeting in the next few budget cycles.

"We're going to have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable" Grotting said, before rolling out plans to reduce staffing and programs district-wide, while increasing class sizes.

Part of the reason for the drastic downturn in spending is due to a reduction in Title 1 and Title 2 funds, Grotting noted. Those funds go to school districts to serve vulnerable students.

"Poverty numbers in Beaverton are going down," the superintendent told a gymnasium packed with hundreds of teachers, parents and students. "We're having (fewer) students in poverty and … our ESL population is decreasing."

BSD noted a 7% decline in those federal funds, along with estimates about employee salary and retirement costs that missed the mark by a long way.

District administrators peered out into a sea of red T-shirts worn by teachers and educator advocates Monday.

Some spoke of having more than 30 students in their classrooms, and not having the time or ability to adequately serve each one. They said they dreaded the thought of even more students in their classrooms.

Others decried the loss of a Primary Years Programme, or PYP, which they said was fundamental to helping many students succeed and be better citizens in their environments.

PYP encourages cultural education and competency, mindfulness and other skills.

"For me, personally, that's 11 years of commitment I've invested. … I'm seeing that just disappear. It's like hawking your wedding ring at the pawn shop for some cheap money and you can't get it back," Nathan Traller, a fifth-grade teacher, told the budget committee and district staff.

Sara Schmitt, president of the Beaverton Education Association, said staff were bracing for budget cuts that would see around 200 teachers laid off and programs being cut.

"We are stretched very thin already and our students' needs already exceed our available resources," Schmitt noted Monday via email. "As professionals, to be asked to do our jobs with larger classes and caseloads, fewer colleagues and programs, and fewer resources next year is overwhelming. We are facing losing valued colleagues, teammates and collaborators who we have come to rely upon and who our students love so much."

The budget committee is slated to meet again Monday, May 13.

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