Our Opinion: PPS superintendent shows he's serious about change
A bold move by Portland Public Schools Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero last week should send a distinct signal to students, teachers, parents and the public at large: The district appears serious about directing its resources to the classroom and away from a swollen administration.
Guerrero announced on April 23 that the district would cut 65 administrative positions. We see this as a positive step, but also temper that optimism with a bit of caution. It is unknown what these reductions might mean for important services the district's central office must provide, and it's also unclear whether some positions might have to be restored in the long term.
With those caveats aside, however, it's also true that the public places a much higher priority on what happens in the classroom than what occurs at an administrative level. While we don't celebrate anyone losing his or her job, these cutbacks show what's important to Guerrero.
Likewise, the reorganization aligns well with previous statements — and campaign promises — made by School Board Chair Julia Brim-Edwards, who has been calling for more central office accountability and for a greater focus on getting resources into the schools. And, not coincidentally, Guerrero's announcement last week will bring the district closer to balancing a proposed budget for the next school year.
That budget is still a work in progress. In addition to the usual fiscal pressures caused by rising retirement and health care costs for district employees, PPS is trying to add 50 teaching positions across the district. It recently negotiated a new teacher contract that includes retroactive and future raises, and it has announced a new staffing model to calculate how many teachers, paraeducators and other staff would be needed in each school.
These initiatives cost money, and it's encouraging to see the district look inward to find the resources to pay for them. Now, a reorganized administration must quickly demonstrate that it can continue to function — and, as Guerrero promises — be more efficient with fewer employees.
One particular area of concern will be to make sure that the departure of Chief Operating Officer Jerry Vincent doesn't disrupt the numerous construction, remodeling and repair projects being funded by PPS's 2017 bond measure. The district is already over budget on some of those improvements. It cannot afford any further missteps during the management transition.
It would be naïve to believe the district won't miss a beat as 65 positions disappear, even though about half of them already were vacant. Yet, with limited state funding, escalating costs for the Public Employees Retirement System and a public demand for better educational outcomes, Guerrero had to show he was committed to real change at PPS. His actions are in contrast to the last permanent superintendent, Carole Smith, who was criticized for being too generous in compensating her associates in the central office.
Guerrero's announcement last week sets him apart from PPS's recent past. Now, his challenge will be to keep morale up with the remaining administrative staff and continue placing his emphasis on the most important interactions: those between teachers and their students.