Portland Public Schools leadership presented a $1.87 billion budget for next year to the school board Tuesday.
PPS Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero said the budget reflects student needs from the last two years of the pandemic.
“Arguably, the last couple of years have indeed presented us with unique circumstances - we’ve never experienced them at this level in the history of public education,” Guerrero said. “It’s made the role and importance of our public schools more evident than ever.”
Despite earlier conversations that declining enrollment might mean layoffs, the superintendent said that’s not the case.
“No classroom educator nor any licensed educator will experience a layoff,” Guerrero said.
But there will be cuts to classroom positions. Officials plan a reduction of 88 full time equivalent employees in schools, but said due to attrition and retirements, teachers will not lose their jobs.
In documents shared at the school board meeting Tuesday, PPS Chief Financial Officer Nolberto Delgadillo cited increased expenses, and a $40 million gap between general fund expenses and revenue.
That’s why staff recommends the board approve using $40 million from reserves.
“Given our deep investment in supporting our students and school communities next year, our budgeted expenses are outpacing our next revenues,” Delgadillo said.
That would reduce the district’s reserves from 11% of annual general fund revenue (about $91 million) to 6% (about $51 million). That’s still within the board’s reserve fund policy, which sets a reserve fund goal between 5% and 10%. Delgadillo shared a goal to gradually build reserves back up, starting in 2023.
Vice chair Andrew Scott Board and member Gary Hollands were among the board members who expressed concern about what dipping into reserves might mean in the future.
“When I hear, based on the policy, that we’re going to reduce the funds by $40 million but there’s no plan of how do we replenish that back,” Hollands said. “It kind of makes me shiver a little bit.
“Because we have a plan on what we’re going to use the $40 million for, but we don’t have a plan or a method of how we’re going to replace that moving forward.”
Large class sizes remain a concern
As officials shared details of the budget proposal with the board, district officials were seated around the room. So were a number of Portland Association of Teachers members and other community members, some holding blue signs reading “More Teachers = Lower Class Size”.
One slide the district presented Tuesday cited averages of up to 24 students in K-5 classrooms, and up to 29 in middle school classrooms. But documents shared previously with the board in March showed projected class sizes of up to 33 in some elementary schools and 34 in a K-8 and a middle school. District officials said they may share more “updated” numbers at a future budget work session.
PAT president Elizabeth Thiel said 65 elementary positions and 35 middle school positions have been reduced for next year, and teachers have been unassigned from schools to fill positions elsewhere.
“We have been through so much upheaval and disruption, we need to give students a stable school environment, we need to provide the opportunity for students to make connections with the adults in their building, and to get the individualized support they need,” Thiel said in a recent interview.
In conversations around staffing reductions, Thiel, parents, and even elected officials have suggested PPS spend some of its one-time federal pandemic relief dollars on staff. District officials said they have. Budget documents cite $7 million in federal funds going to 56 full time equivalent positions to “maintain class sizes”.
Other federal and state funds will be spent elsewhere.
Federal dollars to support students recovering from the pandemic
The district plans to devote $118 million in state and one-time federal dollars to help students catch up from the pandemic, provide mental health support and summer programming, and offer professional development to teachers.
The state funding is coming from the Student Investment Account, part of the Student Success Act that Oregon lawmakers passed in 2019. Budget data from the district show more than $6 million from the general fund, $37.7 million from SIA, and $74.6 million from Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER, funds make up the $118 million.
Some of the funding 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 at every school.
The district’s plan for professional development includes having 250 teachers participate in LETRS training, a program aimed at improving how teachers approach reading instruction.
Some of the funds, $14.3 million of the $118 million, are dedicated to providing “high-quality emotional, mental health, and wraparound supports.”
That includes funds to continue feeding PPS students, by shoring up the end of a nationwide lunch program and paying for after school snacks and other food options.
Going forward, the board is set to hear from the public about the budget at a work session May 4, with meetings and work sessions planned throughout the rest of May.
Board members shared initial questions and first impressions Tuesday, but there will be more conversation over the next several weeks, including questions around the staff recommendation to use reserve fund monies to balance the budget.
PAT president Thiel hopes to get her questions answered too, including one about the district’s planned use of state and federal investments.
“How are we adding $118 million in new spending and still cutting classroom positions?”
A vote to approve the budget is scheduled for May 24, with final adoption on June 14.