PORTLAND, Ore. – Portland Public Schools principals will have to make some difficult decisions in the next couple of months as the school district faces a projected budget shortfall.
Those decisions will likely include about 70 teacher layoffs at the district if the proposed budget is passed.
"This is a budget of difficult choices," said PPS interim superintendent Bob McKean, in a letter sent to families and staff Tuesday night. "We made extra cuts to central administration to prioritize direct services for students, but we still must make some painful cuts to our schools. Although the cuts will affect each school differently, they will be noticeable."
McKean said the budget prioritizes equity, student learning and achievement, and student health and safety.
Jefferson is the only high school without a net loss due to their expected 80 new students, as schools get more money if they have more students.
Lincoln High School will lose the most staff, with 7.28 FTE (full-time equivalent) instructors and 1.5 FTE support staff leaving. Madison also loses more than 8 FTE. Franklin and Grant are close behind, losing more than 7 FTE.
Katie Swigart, a student at Lincoln High School said the idea of larger class sizes is tough to swallow. She said class sizes are already too big.
“It’s really hard for me to learn," she said. "There’s less one on one time with teachers. I know that asking questions and getting those questions answered is absolutely necessary to our learning. So when we don’t get the one on one time that we need it can be really detrimental."
Elisabeth Theil has been a teacher at PPS for 14 years and is the vice president of the Portland teachers' union. She said kids will be losing vital programs.
“It's a very stressful time for teachers personally, and for school communities finding out they're going to be losing beloved staff and programs that are essential. It's really hard,” she said.
Overall, schools in Oregon will get $400 million less from the state school fund over the next two years than what they need to keep operating the way they are right now, according to current budget projections.
Each school will handle the shortfall differently, but will have to work around state requirements. For instance, schools need at least a half-time physical education instructor.
Schools with bigger pockets could navigate the shortfall better than others, but no one will be fully protected from cuts.
The Oregon legislature has proposed a $8 billion budget for schools during the 2017-19 biennium, down from the projected $8.4 billion school officials say they need to continue operating with the same staff while managing cost of living increases and PERS benefits. The change is due to a projected $1.6 billion budget shortfall for the state overall.
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PPS had a $592.6 million budget in the 2016-17 school year, with $222.8 million coming from the state.
PPS spokesman Dave Northfield said the 2017-18 PPS budget has a projected $18 million shortfall, based on February revenue projections. The district hopes the state decides to allocate more money for its state school fund when the new state budget is passed.
“There’s no way to sugar coat this. This is a painful process but we’re at the beginning of the process,” Northfield said.
The proposed PPS budget was presented to the board of directors on April 4 and will be considered for approval on May 23. It will likely be adopted after a hearing on June 13.
Listening sessions will be held April 11 at Madison High School, April 24 at Blanchard Education Service Center and May 9 at Blanchard ESC.