Oregon’s largest district is in the midst of getting substantially smaller. Portland Public Schools officials are projecting a two-year drop in enrollment of nearly 7,000 students — the equivalent of losing three large high schools’ worth of students.
PPS officials project a loss of 3,400 students next school year, resulting in potential staffing cuts due to the continued decline in enrollment, according to a message shared with staff on Wednesday.
According to state data, the district already lost 3,436 students since the 2019-2020 school year. The state’s largest district reported a total enrollment of 45,123 students this year, compared to 48,559 in 2019-2020.
Statewide, enrollment has dropped almost 30,000 students since 2019-2020. The state’s enrollment count for 2021-2022 is 553,012, down from 582,661 in 2019-2020.
With the biggest loss of students at the elementary level, PPS officials said it will “expect to see a reduction of about 65 homeroom positions” in K-5 classrooms, but that doesn’t mean layoffs.
There may also be staffing changes at the middle school level.
In the message to staff, PPS deputy superintendents Claire Hertz and Cheryl Proctor attribute the decline in enrollment to several things, including “decreasing birth rates, enrollment patterns, school re-configurations and choices families have made during the pandemic.”
The district said federal funds from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund and state funds from the Student Investment Account prevented an even larger reduction in staffing levels.
With those funds, the district said it is able to retain 14 classroom teachers and maintain 40 other full-time equivalent positions across PPS. Current staffing levels for counselors and social workers will remain, district officials said.
“While we are forecasting fewer dollars to operate schools generally as a result of declining student enrollment, we are also grateful to have targeted state and one-time federal investments to limit the impact of this enrollment change school districts all across Oregon are facing,” said Guadalupe Guerrero, Superintendent of PPS. “Fortunately, these one-time dollars will maintain our commitment to advancing key staffing priorities, including making progress towards our class-size goals, a continued focus on direct student supports, and growing access to arts education.”
District officials said it will be able to add art teachers through funds from the Portland Arts Tax.
The Portland Association of Teachers disagrees with the proposed staffing cuts, saying the district should focus instead on “strengthening our school communities.”
“After the last two years, it is unconscionable to cut staff from our school system,” said PAT president Elizabeth Thiel in a statement released Wednesday afternoon. “Looking at the numbers, it is also completely unnecessary.”
According to PAT, the total staffing impact proposed by the district includes eliminating 121 teaching positions at the elementary and middle school levels. The union’s message also argues between federal, state and local dollars, cuts shouldn’t be needed.
The district budget process is set to begin in April.
Though enrollment declined statewide in 2021-2022, PPS faced a larger percentage in the loss of students. Statewide, total enrollment dropped from 560,917 to 553,012, a 1.41% drop, or a loss of 7905 students. PPS faced a 3.84% drop in enrollment, a loss of 1801 students this year.
That’s a larger loss, by percent than most other large districts in the state. However, every Multnomah County school district lost students at a larger rate than the state, with enrollment percentage drops ranging from 1.91% in Gresham-Barlow to a 6.89% drop in Parkrose and a 6.32% drop in Riverdale.
This is a developing story. Watch for updates.