Echoing budget crunches in schools across Oregon, Portland Public Schools rolled out a $1.38 billion proposed spending plan for the 2019-20 school year. The plan, which awaits approval from the PPS School Board, comes in $130 million shy of the last PPS budget.
Despite receiving millions more in allocated revenue from the state, the largest school district in Oregon faces a $17 million shortfall, as expenses outpace revenues.
PPS says the gap is due to lower enrollment than expected, and rising costs of teacher salaries and retirement. Like neighboring districts, PPS also cited Oregon's equal pay act, which mandates that men and women are paid equally for the same work.
To address that, the district proposes cutting about 45 teaching positions and cutting from its central office budget.
Portland schools won't be as hard hit as neighboring communities like Beaverton, which faces a $35 million budget gap and mass layoffs. But the resounding message from PPS officials was: Schools have been short-changed for years by the Legislature.
District touts 'strategic investments' amid shortfall
"Even with increased investment at the state level, this budget proposal does not keep up with expense growth and therefore will result in an overall reduction of 2.5% to PPS' general fund," PPS Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero stated in a budget message.
While current figures call for cuts to some teaching positions, the budget also aims to increase resources and staff for special education students, by hiring 19 additional special education teachers and paraeducators. Other upgrades also are on deck, like security cameras for buses and an additional $750,000 to bring on seven custodians, two steamfitters and a groundskeeper.
"There's a couple areas where we're making strategic investments," Guerrero said during an initial glimpse of the district's budget on April 23.
The 2019-20 budget includes spending $13 million in priority areas like special education, curriculum development, differentiated school supports and professional development for educators. To pay for that, $9 million was cut from the PPS central office budget and another $4 million from schools.
In the coming year, PPS leaders said they're trying to better serve Portland's vulnerable students. Additional support for students on individualized education programs, or IEPs, was a marked as a priority in the 2019-20 school year. Special education students make up nearly 14% of the PPS student population, according to the district.
Addressing issues of class size and support programs for kids with special needs is key for parents like Jennifer Breedlove, who attended a public input session hosted by PPS Tuesday, April 30, with her daughter.
"Last Friday I was called out of work for the 10th time because my special-needs son had a meltdown," Breedlove said Tuesday. "What I found was some kids get left behind because teachers don't have the time to devote to those students."
Issues of equity and support services were highlighted in discussions with parents and stakeholders during the April 30 info session.
Jonathan Garcia, chief engagement officer for PPS, told parents that the district is broadening its recruitment for new teachers in an attempt to bring in more diverse applicants and have staff that better reflects the diversity of students in PPS.
"We are targeting African American organizations, Latino organizations, all over the nation," Garcia told a small group of parents.
School board directors stressed that the budget being considered by the district is a "cuts budget," mirroring the statewide budget for public education. Inadequate education funding is at the root of ongoing rallies and protests by teachers.
"The state does not provide enough money to fund education," PPS Board Chair Rita Moore said bluntly during board discussions Tuesday. "I think it's a testament to the work that the superintendent and staff has put into this budget, that we are not feeling a catastrophic impact of this $17 million shortfall."
Educators across Oregon got a hint of relief Wednesday, as lawmakers inched closer to approving the Student Success Act — a new $2 billion tax package to pay for schools and school programs. (To hear Tribune journalists discussing the Student Success Act, see this story online.)
About 54% of the district's general fund will be spent on teaching and instruction, and an additional 37% on classroom and building support.