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Smith's schools budget would boost funding for literacy, boundary changes

The proposal now heads to the board with final approval in June

SCREENSHOT: PPS.NET - Portland Public Schools Superintendent Carole Smith and school board member Julie Esparza Brown at the March 29 school board meeting.

Portland Public Schools Superintendent Carole Smith handed over her plan for more than half a billion dollars Tuesday evening to the school board for consideration.

The 2016-17 general fund budget proposal is for $591.9 million, a 2 percent increase over last year’s adopted budget. This is by design — the Oregon legislature adopts a two-year budget for the state, which includes school funding. Smith wants to maintain a 49-51 percent split over the two years so that there is enough for the second year’s wage increases, enrollment increases and other costs that tend to rise.

The cost of employees is by far the largest expenditure of the district, coming in at around 80 percent of the budget. The district this year broke up its budgeting process so that the hiring process could start earlier in an attempt to compete with other districts for personnel. That began March 9.

Wages for the district’s largest segment of employees are uncertain as the district is just beginning its negotiations with the Portland Association of Teachers union to renew the teacher contract that expires in June. Staffing levels will be similar to last year, but the district anticipates about 650 new students, which would bring its enrollment close to the 50,000 mark for the first time in years.

In presenting her proposal, Smith said she is continuing to boost funding in the district, but acknowledged that it’s still not enough.

“There’s significant pent up demand throughout the system,” Smith says. “So we’re just barely built back from our years of budget-cutting.”

The proposal would include $6.5 million in new expenditures. Smith’s priorities for investing are:

  • New K-12 literacy supports, including $1 million in professional development in sixth to 12th grade and $2.1 million for the first phase of a $7.5 million effort to train preschool-to-fifth-grade teachers.
  • Adding $1.8 million to assist with the plan to convert many K-8 schools back to an elementary-middle school model.
  • Smith also wants to increase administrative oversight of principals by creating a 1-to-12 ratio of principal supervisors. This could be in response to a rash of principals leaving or being asked to leave mid-year in recent years.

    Smith stressed that though system-wide the district will have more funding, on an individual school level there may still be cuts as enrollment fluctuates. This may be particularly true this year as the district prepares to approve the first round of recommendations to change school boundaries and feeder patterns. The committee steering the changes is called the District-wide Boundary Review Advisory Committee, or DBRAC.

    “It’s pretty incredible to have DBRAC, contract negotiation and budget happening all at the same time,” said school board member Amy Kohnstamm, “but I guess that’s just the nature of the beast.”

    PPS Budget Timeline:

    Spring 2016: Budget Town Hall meetings

    May 17: Community Budget Review Committee approval

    May 24: Board Budget Committee approval

    June 21: Board adoption

    More information: PPS Budget Office

    Shasta Kearns Moore
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