The leadership of Portland Public Schools presented a $1.87 billion budget for next year to the school board on Tuesday.
PPS superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero said the budget reflects the needs of students from the past two years of the pandemic.
“Arguably, the last few years have presented us with truly unique circumstances – we have never experienced them at this stage in the history of public education,” Guerrero said. “It has made the role and importance of our public schools clearer than ever.”
Despite earlier talks that a drop in enrollment could mean layoffs, the superintendent said it was not.
“No classroom teacher nor any licensed teacher will experience layoffs,” Guerrero said.
But there will be a cut in class position. Officials plan a reduction of 88 full-time equivalent staff in schools, but said retirement and retirement will not lead to teacher jobs.
In documents shared at a school board meeting on Tuesday, PPS Chief Financial Officer Nolberto Delgadillo cited increased expenses and a $40 million difference between general fund expenditure and revenue.
The staff therefore recommends that the Board approve the use of $40 million from reserves.
“Given our deep investment in supporting our students and school communities next year, our budget spending is outpacing our next revenue,” Delgadillo said.
This would reduce the district’s reserves from 11% (about $91 million) to 6% (about $51 million) of annual general fund revenue. This is still within the board’s reserve fund policy, which sets a reserve fund target between 5% and 10%. Delgadillo shared the goal of building up reserves gradually, starting in 2023.
Vice Chairman Andrew Scott and board member Gary Hollands were among the board members who expressed concern about what future stock declines could mean.
“When I hear based on policy, we’re going to reduce the fund to $40 million, but we don’t have any plans for how we’re going to get it back,” Hollands said. “It kind of makes me tremble a little.
“Because we have a plan that we’re going to use $40 million for, but we don’t have a plan or any way how we’re going to change that going forward.”
Large class sizes remain a concern
District officials sat around the room as officials shared the details of the budget proposal with the board. So were members of the Portland Association of Teachers and others members of the community, some with blue signs reading “more teachers = lower class sizes.”
A slide from the district presented Tuesday cited an average of 24 students in K-5 classes and up to 29 in middle school classes. But documents previously shared with the board in March showed projected class sizes of up to 33 and K-8 in some elementary schools and up to 34 in a middle school. District officials said they may share more “updated” numbers in a future budget working session.
PAT president Elizabeth Thiel said 65 elementary positions and 35 middle school positions have been reduced for the next year, and teachers have been removed from schools to fill positions elsewhere.
“We have gone through so much upheaval and disruption, we need to give students a stable school environment, we need to give students the opportunity to build relationships with the adults in their building and to receive individual support,” Thiel said in a recent interview.
In conversations about staffing cuts, Thiel, parents and even elected officials have suggested that PPS spend some of their one-time federal pandemic relief dollars on employees. District officials have said. Budget documents cite $7 million in federal funds going to 56 full-time equivalent positions to “maintain class size.”
Other federal and state funds would be spent elsewhere.
Federal dollars to support students recovering from pandemic
The district plans to dedicate $118 million to the state and one-time federal dollars to help students catch up with the pandemic, provide mental health support and summer programming, and provide teachers with professional development.
State funding is coming from the Student Investment Account, part of the Student Success Act, which Oregon lawmakers passed in 2019. District budget data show more than $6 million from the general fund, $37.7 million from the SIA, and $74.6 million from the primary. Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER, funds make up $118 million.
Some of the money is dedicated to supporting the district’s summer programs, which district officials said will serve more than 12,500 students. There are also plans to increase access to social workers or mental health professionals in every school.
The district’s plan for professional development includes the participation of 250 teachers in LETRS training, a program aimed at improving the way teachers are instructed to read.
Some of the $14.3 million in $118 million is devoted to providing “high-quality emotional, mental health and wraparound support.”
This includes funding to continue feeding PPS students, through the end of a nationwide lunch program and by paying for after-school snacks and other meal options.
Going forward, the board is set to hear about the budget from the public in a working session on May 4, with meetings and working sessions planned for the rest of May.
Board members shared initial questions and first impressions on Tuesday, but there will be more conversations over the next several weeks, including questions about the staff’s recommendation to use reserve fund money to balance the budget.
PAT President Thiel hopes his questions will also be answered, including those about the district’s planned use of state and federal investments.
“How are we going to add $118 million in new spending and still cut class position?”
Voting to approve the budget is to be held on May 24, which will be finalized on June 14.