The good news is filling Beaverton’s multi-million dollar hole should avoid teacher layoffs or ending the school year early.
The bad news is it’s hard to slash as much as $12 million in the middle of an academic year, without affecting key services for students. And even the list of budget cuts the district is pursuing won’t completely close the projected gap.
Beaverton Superintendent Don Grotting came up with four specific steps the district is taking:
- Limit using substitutes for “non-classroom” positions to save $2 million.
- Cut non-salary budgets by 20 percent “for all schools and departments” to save $2.6 million.
- Cut non-salary budgets related to curriculum and textbooks to save $2.6 million.
- Freeze hiring for “non-classroom” positions to save $800,000.
Those steps add up to $8 million — a few million shy of the entire budget gap Beaverton school leaders are facing.
“These actions will be implemented immediately but will not cover the entire projected shortfall,” the district acknowledged this week.
The admission of the budget gap and the hasty effort to find ways to patch it come as Beaverton has drawn recent praise of its budget efforts. A recent audit from the Oregon secretary of state’s office suggested districts such as Portland Public Schools, which was thoroughly critiqued in the audit, had lessons to learn from Beaverton.
“Budgets for the Beaverton School District, Seattle Public Schools, and other local governments, such as Multnomah County, illustrate stronger budget approaches that could help PPS manage its services more effectively,” the audit said.
Beaverton’s budget gap largely stems from flawed estimates district officials made last spring, as they prepared spending plans for the 2018-19 school year. It’s part of an annual forecast that every district in Oregon has to do, which estimates revenue they’ll get based on student enrollment and costs they’ll face based on staffing. Beaverton officials said they were off on both figures for this school year.
Specifically, district officials pointed to five factors in Beaverton’s $10 to $12 million gap:
- Estimates were too high for English Language Learner enrollment and students in need of specialized classroom environments (both student groups that bring additional funding to the district) — ELL student numbers were off by 400, the special education enrollment figure was over by 100 students.
- Overall enrollment growth was flat, though Beaverton officials “anticipated continued student enrollment growth.”
- There was a decrease of “students in poverty throughout Beaverton,” which “reduces our State School Fund allocation” — a drop of about $1.2 million based on enrolling 155 fewer students than forecast.
- “[F]ewer teachers left the high end of the salary schedule and were not replaced by teachers on the lower end of the salary schedule.”
- Beaverton’s costs under Oregon’s new Pay Equity law, designed to prohibit discrimination against women, “could not have been estimated when the budget was adopted,” but officials now say that law is costing the district $1.1 million.
Beaverton officials acknowledged that closing the budget gap won’t come without some pain.
“These reductions will be difficult, but they are necessary to help balance the budget for the current year and not increase the cuts for the next fiscal year,” the district said.
The budget gap is a lesson for education officials about how Beaverton’s demographics are changing — again. For years, Beaverton’s student population grew more culturally and linguistically diverse, and less wealthy. But that’s no longer the trend.
“There has been a dramatic shift in demographics in the Beaverton School District,” the district told community members this week. “The District is no longer a growth district.”
Officials said they will have to be “more conservative” in future budgets, as a result.
Beaverton’s overall enrollment has been on a growth trajectory for years. The district lists its current enrollment at 40,860 students — about 400 students more than in 2016-17 and 2,000 more students than in 2012-13.
From a funding standpoint, what’s just as important as how many students a district has overall is whether those students qualify the district for additional money through Oregon’s funding formula. Oregon schools get more money for students in poverty, for students who need help learning English and for children with a learning disability in need of special education support.
The share of Beaverton’s students who qualify for free lunch has declined from about 42 percent in 2012-13 to below 36 percent currently. Likewise, the share of students with disabilities has declined slightly from 13.3 percent in 2012-13 to 11.8 percent, according to current district numbers.