Oregon’s three largest school districts have released budget drafts for next year. Of the three — Portland, Beaverton and Salem-Keizer — cutbacks will likely hit Beaverton hardest.
With a $35 million deficit to make up, Beaverton projects bigger class sizes and the loss of 300 staff, including more than 200 teachers.
Other cuts include professional development resources and support for students learning English.
Superintendent Don Grotting presented the budget to a packed house of teachers, parents and community members Monday.
“In my 22 years as a superintendent, this is one of the most concerning budgets I put together,” Grotting said.
Grotting cited declining enrollment of English language learners and students in poverty — and the loss of funding for students in those categories — as among the reasons for cuts.
During public comment at the meeting, teachers spoke about the impact of large class sizes on student success and engagement. Sunset High School teacher Catherine Geer said her classes average 35 kids and may get bigger next year.
“We can’t just pack in more kids,” Geer said. “It’s not feasible and you’re going to lose great teachers.”
Fifth grade teacher and Beaverton parent Nathan Traller said he was disappointed in Beaverton’s proposed budget.
“Typically when we’ve gone through these hard things, I’ve been able to look around at other districts and just go, ‘I’m thankful I’m at Beaverton because of the wise stewardship and resources that we’ve done,’” Traller said. “I want to see us through this.”
Katie Lukins, a fifth grade teacher at Bethany Elementary, testified about her past experiences with the budget process.
Laid off two years ago during a round of cuts, Lukins is back at Beaverton.
“We are cutting over 200 teachers in our district,” Lukins said. “You have to ask yourselves when you’re looking at these budgets and looking at making cuts, are you making reductions with students at the forefront, or are we causing active harm?”
Salem-Keizer and Portland will have budget gaps too, but they are much smaller. Salem-Keizer is facing a $3.5 million shortfall, and the district will add full-time employees.
But Salem-Keizer will not be able to add additional counselors to staff. In a written statement, superintendent Christine Perry said she hopes additional state funding will help.
“We have experienced a number of tragedies across the district this year with an escalation of student suicide risk assessments,” Perry said.
Portland Public Schools will have to make up a $17 million shortfall. To help cover that, the budget calls for cutting 45 classroom teaching positions. At the same time, the district plans to add 19 special education teachers.
School officials say budgets could change if the state Legislature votes to give schools more than the $8.97 billion dedicated to the State Schools Fund by Gov. Kate Brown.
Schools are also looking to legislators for good news on a revenue package introduced earlier this month.
Oregon’s Student Success Plan hasn’t passed and even if it does, it will likely end up on the ballot. That means districts won’t have access to the money for at least one school year.
“School districts will be ill-advised to spend any revenue package that could be taken away or not realized,” Grotting said.
Budget discussions and public comment sessions will continue at all three districts through May.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct grade level which Bethany Elementary teacher Katie Lukins teaches. OPB regrets the error.