The new model will cost $14.5 million more but officials tout it as a more equitable and logical approach than past practice.

This story has been updated.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: SHASTA KEARNS MOORE - Portland Public Schools board of directors met Tuesday, March 6. At the top of the 2018-19 budget season, Portland Public Schools is already undergoing a major shift in how it allocates school staff per building.

District officials touted the new model as a more equitable and logical distribution of funds. Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero called it a "transparent logic model."

Over the entire district, the new formula calls for about 50 more teaching positions at a total extra annual cost of $14.5 million.

School board Chair Julia Brim-Edwards said the plan made "some pretty big shifts" in how the district distributes money to its schools.

Guerrero admitted the plan was "not perfect," but told the board: "What you're hearing tonight in our staffing is a move in the right direction."

The old model was to allocate funding based on school-wide ratios of students to teachers. But new leadership now say that model was flawed because not all children's needs are equal and "fractions" of a full-time teacher often didn't work in the real world. That left principals scrambling for more funds.

"We know you needed those whole teachers to keep those whole classrooms," Deputy Superintendent Yvonne Curtis said. "That's why it costs more."

Big changes to 'equity' allocations

At the March 6 board meeting, Curtis, who recently came over from leading the Forest Grove School District, presented the plan with one of the few top district administrators who has remained at PPS over the last two years: Assistant Superintendent Antonio Lopez.

Curtis said they found that money provided by the district's "equity fund" was filling gaps, instead of providing the extra services it was intended for.

Curtis confirmed what critics have long been arguing: that course offerings across the district can be very different depending on what neighborhood a child lives in. She also said equity funds will now be tied to data proving student outcomes.

"There wasn't a system-wide expectation that it had to be tied directly to that," Curtis said.

There's another change in the equity funds. The district has a new formula and schools will have to meet a threshold to get the equity funds. Despite a slide saying that all 10 high schools will receive the extra funds, a district spokeswoman said that may not be the case once the final calculations are made.

In 2018-19, it will go to 19 of the 31 elementary schools, 20 of the 26 K-8 schools and eight of the 11 middle schools. These schools have higher populations of children with disabilities, extra language needs, lower-incomes or those from certain ethnic groups, all of which the district considers "historically underserved."

Every K-5 program will have equal funding for library, art and P.E., officials said. There will be one school counselor for every 400 students in K-8 and one per 300 students in high school.

Class sizes

Officials have an added incentive to keep class sizes low next year: the new teacher's contract provides extra pay when class sizes go over certain thresholds. (See sidebar, below.) But enrollment can be unpredictable.

"We are committed to working toward the class size goals that we agreed to in contracting," Guerrero said.

Brenda Fox, the district's interim senior director of instruction, curriculum and assessment, said the real solution to scheduling all the different state requirements would actually be "flexible days." That means having an alternating schedule — for example, A/B days — to make for fewer transitions each day.

"We have a finite amount of minutes in the day," Fox said. "That's what we need to consider moving to."

School-based staffing as a whole will eat up $274 million of the district's approximately $600 million general fund budget. Guerrero said again that he expects cuts in the central office to be able to afford the many extra in-school supports he has rolled out in recent weeks.

After numerous work sessions and community budget meetings, the full budget for 2018-19 is expected to be proposed April 24, approved May 22, and adopted June 26 for the start of the fiscal year July 1.

PPS class size ranges under new staffing model

Kindergarten: 15-28 (more than 24 students triggers extra pay for teachers)

Grades 1-3: 15-30 (more than 26 means extra pay for teachers)

Grades 4-5: 18-34 (more than 28 means extra pay for teachers)

Grades 6-8: 20-34 (A middle grade teacher caseload higher than 150 means extra pay)

Grades 9-12: caseload of 160-180 students (A high school teacher caseload higher than 160 means extra pay)

UPDATE (3/13/18): This story has been updated with corrected information from the district about the plan for equity funds in high schools. The allocation formula will now require a threshold be met.

Shasta Kearns Moore
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