Since Monday, Oregon’s 197 school districts have been free to submit their applications for funds from the Student Investment Account, one of three accounts in the Student Success Act.
School districts have until April 15 to apply for these grant funds from the state. The process is not competitive, and while on paper, districts have six weeks to get their applications in ... some school administrators are feeling pressure to move.
Here's how it works: The $497 million in the SIA has been divided based on student population and additional weights like poverty. In their applications, districts must prove that they’ve engaged the school community, and outline how they would spend funds on allowable uses as determined by the legislation.
Districts may use the money to add instructional time or reduce class size. They can also dedicate funds to new curriculum or better professional development for staff.
Districts will receive the funds by August 2020.
A few days in, four school districts have already submitted their applications: Salem-Keizer, Hillsboro, Vale and Phoenix-Talent.
Others are getting ready to submit their plans, and some are still collecting feedback from school boards and community members.
But just because the grants are non-competitive doesn’t mean hiring for the hundreds of positions included in district SIA applications will be.
The rush for teachers was one reason Salem-Keizer hurried its plan to ODE.
“Virtually every district is going to be going after social workers and/or mental health professionals and/or counselors,” Salem-Keizer assistant superintendent Linda Myers said. “There definitely is a sense that getting out ahead of some of the hiring will help us get the highest quality candidates.”
With $36 million, Salem-Keizer's plan targets students of color and English language learners, by hiring more than 200 positions.
That includes 84 jobs with a direct impact on the classroom, such as teachers for elementary school reading or middle school math, and 98 support positions, such as counselors, social workers and homeless student advocates.
“This isn’t a plan for everyone, this is a plan for people who have frequently been underserved by our system as a whole,” Myers said.
But some subject teachers can be difficult to find in Oregon. The state has reported middle and high school math as a teacher shortage area for the last three years.
The Umatilla School District has reported “general shortages” of teachers for the last two years.
But they’d like to hire 11 full-time employees with some of the $1.2 million in funding from the SIA.
"Our focus is on our English language learners, our special education students, and our mobile students,” Superintendent Heidi Sipe said. “And we’re really looking at adding additional staff, both teachers and educational assistants.”
With the state's second-largest population of students considered English Language Learners, Sipe's district is always looking for bilingual, bicultural staff. She hopes the educational assistant positions will lead to a “grow your own” program of teachers.
“We know that a lot of people in our community will make tremendous educators and they need a pathway for becoming educators,” Sipe said.
The concern for hiring qualified staff led Umatilla to diversify its plan.
“We looked for a variety of staff, we didn’t look for just teachers, or just assistants, or just contract providers, or even spend all of our dollars on personnel,” Sipe said.
In addition to teachers, the school will add cameras and technology for classroom safety, as well as contracting with outside providers of mental and behavioral health.
And for the educational assistants they’re hiring for, Umatilla School District plans to offer an incentive –a training stipend.
Teaching positions aren’t the only people districts will be competing for.
Beaverton School District plans to target student health and safety with success teams at every school. The teams will include social workers, counselors, and paraeducators.
Portland Public Schools wants to hire 43 social service positions, which can include counselors, qualified mental health providers and social workers.
The district has already opened applicant pools for the positions and will host a school counselor interview day for later in the month.
“We have reached out our fingers to every social work type of entity,” PPS’ director of Student Support Services Brenda Martinek said at a recent board meeting.
Both Salem-Keizer and Portland Public Schools are planning to hire human resources staff to handle the recruitment and hiring of the increased staffing and new positions created from the SIA funds.
And if districts aren’t able to fill every position, some, like PPS, have included contingency plans in their SIA application.
“If we can’t locate all the personnel or human capital that we’re looking for … we have some flexibility to make some adjustments,” said PPS Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero.