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PPS board adopts reworked budget

The drama about the Portland Public Schools high school schedule and city arts tax funding is resolved — for now.

The Portland School Board approved the $487 million 2013-14 budget by a vote of 6-0 Monday night, capping weeks of uncertainty about both issues. The budget is about a $21 million increase above the current year’s general fund budget. The increase in funds is based on Oregon K-12 schools receiving the equivalent of the $6.75 billion spending level that state leaders have proposed for the 2013-14 biennium, as well as continued growth in enrollment for the school district. PPS is maintaining its reserves at 4 percent.

After back-and-forth meetings with a coalition of parent concerned about the state of the high schools, Superintendent Carole Smith revised her April 15 budget proposal to reallocate 58 teaching positions into high school classrooms and giving every student access to a full eight-class schedule.

Coalition parents wrote a May 19 letter to Smith, thanking her for making the adjustments.

Yet they are already anticipating enrollment-related issues that could arise in the fall that could throw off the staffing balance.

In their letter to Smith, the parents note: “If, however, any one high school proves to have more demand for a full schedule than current staffing allows (high schools are now staffed for 7 classes, less than a full schedule), the Parent Coalitions will not support a mechanism that offsets associated staffing costs by a) adjusting the equity allocation, b) shifting funds from the K-8s or c) forcing high school principals to reallocate staff within the building.

Their letter continues: “We will expect you to instead meet that need using non-school or central office funds or reserves. Meeting demand for a full school day is a basic obligation of the district and not one that should be supported by shifting money from one school level to another or by further cuts to high schools. Neither students nor schools should be punished for having a higher-than-average number of students who want or need a full schedule.”

Arts tax compromise reached

Regarding the arts tax, the PPS budget to be approved will also include the agreement with the city to put at least half-time arts teachers in all 56 PPS school serving K-5 students. There are two legal challenges against the city arts tax, but under a deal struck with the city, PPS will match the city’s guarantee of $1.5 million in arts tax funding for PPS in the event that the arts tax is not upheld.

The $3 million total would support 30 arts positions in elementary grade schools next year.

Under an existing intergovernmental agreement, the city would distribute a total of $4.5 million in arts tax funding to PPS this year, with a first payment of $2.25 expected in November.

Based on that agreement, the superintendent’s proposed 2013-14 budget proposed including 45.5 arts positions in elementary grade schools next year. Under the proposed agreement, staffing arts positions at a level of 30 positions would guarantee arts in all schools. At the same time, it does not commit PPS to a staffing level that would exceed the resources the city and the school district have available to backstop the arts tax while awaiting the outcome of legal challenges.