Records detail preliminary cuts to individual Portland schools, as district confronts $30M budget hole

By Natalie Pate (OPB)
March 23, 2024 1 p.m.

Individual school reports obtained by OPB show how many full-time positions each Portland school was allotted under the district’s initial budget proposal.

Families and teachers have received limited information from Portland Public Schools as Oregon’s largest district works to cut $30 million from next year’s budget.

District leaders have been warning since last year that significant cuts were inevitable. This only increased in the fall. As the PPS board and teachers approved a contract last November following the end of the month-long strike, the district estimated the deal would lead to as much as $130 million in cuts over the three-year life of the contract.


Half of the cuts for next school year — about $15 million of the $30 million shortfall — is expected to be cut from the district’s 86 schools.

Specifics on these cuts have largely remained unclear. District leaders have avoided giving many specifics publicly, saying it’s too early in the budget process.

At a district budget meeting Tuesday night, committee members asked for more specifics from the district as well — pressing for more detailed updates than they’ve been given so far.

“They’re very intense HR processes that we use, including communicating with employees who might be impacted before we make public announcements,” Interim Superintendent Sandy Husk told the committee. “But we hear you. We really do.”

Families since last month have received emails from individual principals outlining specific changes to expect, and some staff members at both the school and central office levels have been told their positions are being reduced or eliminated.

But more complete information has been elusive. Now, public records obtained by Oregon Public Broadcasting show expected changes — including reductions — of full-time positions at each school in the district, based on projected enrollment numbers.

Related: How do Portland’s proposed budget cuts impact special education? Families, school district staff want to know

Each report includes the school’s initial staffing estimate, as explained in an email from Ryan Vandehey, a public records officer and media relations representative for PPS.

School principals have been fleshing out the details of their allocations since last month. Vandehey said this is an opportunity for school leaders to flag school-level needs that might not have been known, or to request additional staff to meet core requirements.

Staff reductions mostly reflect student enrollment

The records show that schools losing the most staff members are the ones where student enrollment is expected to drop the most. Franklin High School is set to lose the most staff — 9.55 full-time positions — due to an anticipated enrollment decline of 84 students.


Cleveland and Jefferson high schools are both set to lose more than 7 positions each, and they’re expected to shrink by 214 and 138 students, respectively. For context, Franklin has more students and staff than Cleveland and Jefferson.

But even some schools where enrollment is flat, or growing slightly, are seeing staff reductions. North Portland’s Chief Joseph Elementary School is projected to grow by 13 students next year but is budgeted to lose a full-time position. Arleta Elementary, in Southeast Portland, is expected to add 35 students, but its staff would shrink by one half-time job.

Related: Salem-Keizer schools outline specifics in first major round of spending cuts

And a few schools set to grow substantially are seeing only modest additions to their staff. Benson Polytechnic High School, which is returning to fully refurbished buildings on its Northeast Portland campus this summer, is expected to add 119 students. Its individual school report only has Benson adding one half-time position.

The school projected to add the most staff? Lincoln High School in downtown Portland. It’s budgeted to add 2.4 full-time staff, as the school adds 68 students.

Portland Public Schools district headquarters, Portland, Ore., Dec. 15, 2018.

FILE - Portland Public Schools district headquarters, Portland, Ore., Dec. 15, 2018.

Bradley W. Parks / OPB

Giving context to the data, records officer Vandehey said that staffing shifts every year based on the number of students in a building and at each grade level.

“When enrollment drops at a particular school, for example, teachers may be ‘unassigned’ from their current school and given a new assignment somewhere else where they are needed,” he said.

Declining enrollment, limited state funds, rising costs and heightened student needs are among the struggles several districts across Oregon and Southwest Washington are facing — not just Portland.

Vandehey also said it’s important to remember the federal financial cliff schools are facing nationwide.

Related: School districts throughout Oregon, Southwest Washington face significant budget cuts this spring

Enrollment-related staff losses — which schools would have seen before — were offset using federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) grant money. But that’s no longer available to be used for school staffing next year.

Although some Portland teachers and staff represented by unions in the district have received letters of “unassignment,” Vandehey said this does not mean their positions have been reduced yet.

“Currently,” he said in an email Wednesday, “we are at the stage in the process where there is a staffing change at a school or at the central office, and the unassigned staff will choose or be assigned to other potential assignments.”

Read more about Portland Public’s budget process here.

OPB’s Rob Manning, Tony Schick and Winston Szeto contributed to this story.