Q&A: Portland Public Schools considers a nearly $2.4 billion budget proposal for next year

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

Interim Superintendent Sandy Husk released her draft budget this week, laying out deep cuts for the upcoming school year

Oregon’s largest school district is about to dive headfirst into the spring budget process, facing a $30 million deficit and the prospect of cutting some 250 positions districtwide.

Interim Superintendent Sandy Husk released her proposed budget this week. She’ll present it to the school board Wednesday evening.


The spending plan totals $2.39 billion — which pays for educating about 44,500 students in 80-plus schools and programs.

The $2.4 billion is an all-inclusive figure, including bond funds and other dedicated revenue streams, some of which district officials can’t easily adjust. Day-to-day operations of the district come from special revenue and general funds, which, combined, total about $1 billion in the draft budget. That’s roughly $600,000 more than last year’s, but officials say it’s not enough to keep up with rising costs.

The slight bump is reflective of more funding from the state and less from the feds.

FILE: Former Salem-Keizer superintendent Sandy Husk started as the interim leader of Portland Public Schools in February.

FILE: Former Salem-Keizer superintendent Sandy Husk started as the interim leader of Portland Public Schools in February.

Courtesy of Portland Public Schools / Courtesy of Portland Public Schools

Husk said her proposed budget is largely the same as what former Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero left her when he stepped down and she took over in February.

“We are continuing, as much as we can, to support the initiatives that focus on improving student achievement, graduation rates, and minimizing the negative impact on students,” Husk told reporters at a press conference Monday.

“And I know some of … the specifics that we will be announcing may not feel that way, particularly to parents and students and employees that will be most directly affected,” she added. “But that’s been our goal.”

Portland isn’t the only district facing a harsh budget season. Schools across Oregon and Southwest Washington are grappling with tens of millions of dollars in cuts and mass layoffs.

Salem-Keizer Public Schools is bracing for cuts of roughly 400 positions — about 7% of its total workforce — in the district’s largest reduction in over a decade.

Some districts — including Gervais — may need to close down altogether.

Educators throughout the region have pointed to a combination of factors making this a tough budget year. They note rising costs, limited state funding, the end of federal COVID relief money, heightened student needs since the pandemic, and declining student enrollment as core reasons for the budget crisis.

Portland is unique in that the district also experienced its first-ever teachers strike in the fall, lasting nearly the entire month of November.

Husk acknowledged that ensuring PPS offers “quality compensation for all of our employee groups” does have an effect on the budget, but, she said, so does inflation. “It’s coming [at] us from several areas.”

Husk, who served as Salem-Keizer’s superintendent during the Great Recession of the late 2000s, is not a stranger to these kinds of decisions.

“Making reductions is very, very painful,” she said. “I’ve done this before throughout my career — it doesn’t feel any better this time.”

Husk reminded the Portland community that a new superintendent will be taking over this summer, and candidates for the position are watching how the community handles these cuts.

“We care about your students. We care about our families. We care about our employees,” Husk said. “Let’s work on this and get through this together.

“This is going to be a tough season … and it’s already been a really challenging year,” she said. “The best we can do is to communicate with respect, to ask challenging questions, to stay in touch with you guys and to think about how we’re going to feel on the other side.”

What do we know about the cuts?

Many families, educators and community members alike have been frustrated with the lack of clarity and specifics given by the district around proposed cuts.

Husk said more of those numbers are laid out in the proposed budget document and will be presented to the school board this week.

Some staffing reductions or position eliminations were announced to staff members in mid-February. Records obtained by OPB showed a breakdown by school of the FTE allocations initially provided to principals based on enrollment projections. Those changes only show a fraction of the suspected cuts.

“With 80% of our budget in people, you will see some reductions either in the number of employees that we have, or where we have people sitting that they may be unassigned and then they currently get assigned,” Husk said Monday.

“You will also see reductions in expenditures. But a lot of cuts were made in previous years,” she said. “And so, this [budget] is going to feel a lot tighter and a lot harder than what you’ve seen in the past.”

Husk said there would be a “minimal impact on class size.” Raising the teacher-student ratio by about one student, elementary classes would have roughly 23 students, and middle school classes would have about 31 students.


“Keep in mind, that’s an average,” she explained. “That doesn’t mean that will happen in every class.”

Husk gave reduced custodial hours as another example of likely cuts.

FILE: Students at Cesar Chavez School in Portland kick a soccer ball around during a free period on Aug. 29, 2023. It was the first day of school for these students.

FILE: Students at Cesar Chavez School in Portland kick a soccer ball around during a free period on Aug. 29, 2023. It was the first day of school for these students.

Caden Perry / OPB

While Husk didn’t answer questions from reporters Monday on the number of employees affected, the proposed budget outlines a reduction of 250 full-time equivalent positions. It’s still not clear how many people will be moved to other roles in the district or have their hours reduced versus those who will lose their jobs altogether. Some cuts will come from expenses other than staffing.

Of the 250 cuts, about 100 are instructional positions and 136 are from support services. The remaining 14 or so are listed under “enterprise and community services” and “facilities acquisition and construction.” School-level cuts are largely decided by individual school administrators.

When it comes to staff members based out of the district’s central offices, a memo sent to families last week said there are approximately 110 FTE reductions. Those are included in the 250 total.

About 40% of the central office cuts will come from vacant positions, which district officials, via the memo, said are largely managed through a hiring freeze the district implemented in November in anticipation of the shortfall.

Several central office employees learned last week that their jobs were being eliminated, including staff in student support services, professional learning and leadership, and maintenance.

Portland also plans to reduce superintendent cabinet-level positions based on current vacancies and interim roles, officials said, in a step meant to reduce the layers of leadership between principals and the superintendent.

Some central-office cuts are positions that serve students directly, especially in special education.

“I can speak to the whole community and say we’re going to make sure your child’s needs are met,” Husk said. “The special education community, the Gifted and Talented community, all of the communities that we have here.

“In some cases, we will be delivering services a little bit differently,” she said, “but we will make sure that your student’s needs are met.”

Husk said district leaders are listening to employees who are concerned — appropriately so, she added — that their services will be changing and that they need training to be prepared for such a shift.

She said conversations, meetings and small groups are happening now and will continue so family and staff concerns are addressed. Husk did not give further specifics.

Did the proposed budget incorporate any recent community pushback?

Husk said the district hasn’t made many changes to the proposed budget the district has been working on for months. That said, the district is just now entering the formal public budget process with the school board following Wednesday’s presentation.

“Things change on a daily basis,” Husk said, listing examples like the number of students or employees at any given time. She stressed that what’s seen this week is a proposed budget. “Some minor adjustments have been made, but not major ones.”

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

FILE: Portland Public Schools district headquarters, Portland, Ore., pictured in 2018.

Bradley W. Parks / OPB

Portland’s five-year property tax levy renewal is on the ballot in May. How does that factor in?

The short answer — it doesn’t. Regardless of how residents vote this spring, the levy renewal won’t impact Portland’s 2024-25 budget.

Yes, the current proposal takes into account funding from local, state and federal revenue streams, which includes the tax levy, as it has been over the course of its five-year life. But the renewal doesn’t have any bearing on the decisions being made now.

If the levy is renewed, the money will go into the district coffers for the 2025-26 school year. If it fails, it would reduce funding in the future.

The current levy is not asking for an increase to the current tax rate, Husk explained, and it supports about 700 classroom teachers.

Will the board’s proposed ‘advocacy and fundraising’ policy change impact the budget?

No. The school board is considering a policy that could change the way money raised by individual school foundations can be used. But as it’s worded now, the policy recommendation, if passed, would not impact the 2024-25 school year.

“And there’s still plenty of time for this policy conversation to happen in public,” Husk added.

What happens next?

Husk will present her proposal to the school board Wednesday night, and there will be opportunities to give public testimony in May. The board will vote to adopt a final budget in June.

For more information and a more detailed timeline, go to