Superintendent Carole Smith proposed adding more than 50 staff positions to Portland schools this school year to address immediate needs in schools. The added staff positions are intended to help reduce class sizes and teacher work load, bolster athletic programs and support other key efforts to improve outcomes for students. The proposal is based on updated budget figures that show healthier than expected reserves, as well as the expectation of improved state K-12 funding next school year.

The Portland school board affirmed the proposal and supported immediate implementation of the plan. The superintendent asked the board for informal direction on whether to proceed so that staff could be provided to schools as soon as possible. The school board will formally vote on a budget amendment later this year.

For the current year, the school district’s available resources have grown by approximately $16 million. The increase is based on utility savings, reduced PERS costs, under-spending, higher than forecasted local option revenue and an increased federal technology reimbursement.

Under the superintendent’s plan, the school district would add $6.5 million for schools to the current 2013-14 budget. Among other additions, these funds would support:

•  The equivalent of more than 25 new full-time teaching positions to reduce class sizes at over-crowded K-5, K-8 and middle schools, and maintain the kindergarten class size target of an average of 25 students or fewer. These positions will also help reduce student loads for high school teachers and ensure that all high school students have the opportunity to take a full course load of 8 classes.
•  Additional classified staff at 68 schools (equivalent to 34 classified FTE) to reduce teacher workload by providing additional classroom support, engaging parents and relieving teachers of playground, bus and other duties.
•  Additional career coordinator capacity at ten PPS high schools, including Alliance, to support career learning (equivalent to 5 classified FTE).
•  Matching funds for a grant that added 6.5 PE teachers to serve 9 elementary and middle grade schools.
•  $900,000 to improve safety and access in high school athletic programs by supporting additional trainers and funding transportation costs for high school teams and supporting freshman and junior varsity coaches.
•  Support to facilitate student demonstration of essential skills, by adding capacity to evaluate work samples for seniors.
•  A new teacher-on-special-assignment to coordinate and support arts curriculum for arts teachers, including the 46 FTE arts teachers funded by the City arts tax.
•  Continuation of 8 mentor positions for more than 130 new teachers, by matching a state grant.
Superintendent Carole Smith said, “Every year that a student is in school is an important one. As our enrollment rises again and our budget picture improves after years of cuts, we want to bring class sizes down for our students this year and bring more support to our classroom teachers. The additional funds state leaders have allocated to K-12 schools gives us confidence we can sustain these positions next year.”
Even with these program enhancements in schools, the school district currently estimates that reserve levels for the 2013-14 year will increase to more than 6 percent when the board votes on the amended budget later this year.
PPS entered the 2012-13 school year with 3.5 percent in reserve, only slightly above the minimum required by school board policy. That year, more than $7 million in reserve funds helped close a $27.5 million budget gap.
The 2013-14 school year represents the first time in 5 years that PPS has not had to use reserves to fill a budget gap.
In the special session last week, state leaders approved an increased allocation of $100 million to the state school fund for the 2014-15 school year, as well as PERS cost reduction measures. The legislature directed school districts to use the funds to hire more teachers and other school staff and increase instructional time.
PPS anticipates receiving approximately $8 million next year from the added K-12 funds. How the school district uses the funds will be determined by the superintendent and the school board, based on community and staff input early next year.
School board member Matt Morton said, “We know we still have additional needs in our schools. Tonight’s proposal helps us respond to our most immediate school needs, based on what we’re hearing from parents, teachers and the community. We want to do everything we can to lower class sizes, add learning time and improve results for all students, both in the current school year and next year.”

Source: Portland Public School District