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Teachers union tells PPS that furloughs are harmful to students

Association asks school board for dialogue on administrative staffing

The Portland teachers' union has broken its silence on the issue of furlough days by asking the district to first look at tackling their administrative spending.

'Furlough days are not the only answer' to help close the $27.5 million budget gap for this fall, Portland Association of Teachers President Gwen Sullivan told the school board Monday night. 'We have many creative ideas that are much less harmful to all of our kids.'

As part of Superintendent Carole Smith's recommended budget, the school board is scheduled to vote May 14 on a three-pronged proposal: making $9.5 million in cuts to the central office, using $7.2 million in reserves, and making $10.4 million - 110 positions - in school staffing reductions.

Many parents, students and others have since been pleading with the teachers' union to stave off those teaching cuts by agreeing to cut school days instead.

The union and district leaders have been in talks. Each day the district shuts down would save $1.2 million. PPS has shied away from cutting school days, while other districts in the region have taken that step.

Sullivan expressed her thoughts on the matter for the first time Monday evening, appearing alongside state Rep. Tina Kotek, House Democratic leader from North/Northeast Portland.

Sullivan asked the board to have an 'honest dialogue' with district leaders about PPS' administrative staffing, presenting data that compares the Portland district's staffing levels to Beaverton's, a slightly smaller district. Here's how they stack up:

• Portland has 47,000 students, compared to Beaverton's 39,000.

• Portland has 2,823 licensed teachers (full-time employees), compared to Beaverton's 2,167.

• Portland has 161 administrators, compared to Beaverton's 106.

• Portland has 2,020 classified staff, compared to Beaverton's 1,656.

• In all, Portland has 5,004 employees, compared to Beaverton's 3,929.

The data also compares department-level resources.

Portland has 53 FTE in human resources, payroll and risk management, while Beaverton has 20. The difference of 30 employees accounts to $2.7 million more spent by Portland in human resources.

Portland has 72 FTE in information technology, while Beaverton has 38. The 35-employee difference accounts to about $5 million more spent by Portland in IT.

And Portland has line items for computers, printers and other hardware that amount to just under $1 million, that Sullivan wonders could pay for teachers instead.

Sullivan suggested connecting with business partners in the city to help replace computers that are critically needed.

When it comes to the furlough option, she said the community must rethink its full impact: 'Many of you have talked out shared sacrifice. But what you have not talked about is the lack of shared sacrifice this has on our most vulnerable students.'

In other business, the board Monday night voted to close two schools. The board voted 5-2 to close the Harriet Tubman Young Women's Leadership Academy, and 6-1 to close Humboldt K-8 School and consolidate it into Boise-Eliot School. Both were more related to staffing levels that won't be able to be met rather than outright budget savings.