Portland Public Schools is closing its online program, the Online Learning Academy, at the end of the school year.
Staff was notified Tuesday during a meeting. Families found out from an email they received Tuesday evening. In the message to families, district officials cited future budget concerns as a reason for closing the school.
“We must plan a leaner budget that maximizes our district-wide commitment to high-quality teaching and learning, and aligns classroom staffing with our student population,” said the message signed by Deputy Superintendent Cheryl Proctor, Chief of Schools Jon Franco, and Assistant Superintendent Margaret Calvert.
In the message, officials said they will be in touch with more information about options and want to “help each OLA student find a learning environment that fits their needs.” Students, teachers, and other staff members will return to in-person schools, according to the message.
The school enrolls 225 students across kindergarten through twelfth grade.
The Online Learning Academy started in the fall of 2021 as an offering for families who wanted their children to remain with online learning as others returned to in-person learning. When the school was announced, there was so much interest some students were waitlisted before the program started.
Other Oregon school districts also opened online programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including Beaverton, David Douglas and Salem-Keizer.
Enrollment fell sharply between the 2021 school year and this school year for a number of schools, including online schools. The Online Learning Academy enrolled 592 students in 2021.
In Beaverton, enrollment in the FLEX Online Academy dropped from 1,331 students in 2021 to 592 students as of Oct. 2022. Enrollment at the David Douglas Online Academy also declined this year. In 2021, they had 392 students. The current enrollment is 219.
Experts in education finance have long warned of a “fiscal cliff” coming as time runs out to spend federal COVID-19 relief dollars. After a tense budget season last spring, Portland Public Schools officials said the end of the federal funds, declining enrollment, and a potential lack of “adequate funding” from the state may result in some “underfunded” work.
“Though our funding picture is incomplete, we don’t expect we’ll receive enough funding from the state to continue operating as we have,” officials said in their message to Online Learning Academy families.
Governor Tina Kotek’s budget proposal, also released Tuesday, includes $9.9 billion for schools across the state, an increase from the previous budget but a number some education advocates say is not enough.
In another message to all district families, also sent Tuesday, Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero shared a preview of the district’s “leaner budget.” It includes a central office hiring freeze and a “sweep” of unused central office funds.
“We must find ways to continue operating while building on our progress and successes to date with fewer funds.”