PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Portland Public Schools Board voted on a budget based on a $9.9 billion state fund allocation Tuesday night. Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers in Salem are working on increasing that to $10.2 billion.
However, the Portland Association of Teachers says it’s not enough and they are rallying for more school funding.
Parents, students and educators packed the school board meeting, overflowing into the parking lot as they showed up for public testimony.
“Nobody wants to work under these conditions. It’s unacceptable,” said special education teacher Ginger Huizar.
The teacher’s union wants the board to invest in more mental health supports and special education services, as well as caps to class sizes.
“I just want to make sure that we don’t pretend what Salem is doing is somehow fully funding education, they are not,” said Andrew Scott, the PPS board chair.
Portland Association of Teachers President Angela Bonilla says the current budget is decreasing licensed staff by 8%. She thinks PPS needs more teachers, not fewer.
“They can’t keep underspending for our students and expecting a better result,” she said. “So we want parents to continue to advocate with the legislature, keep writing to the school board and tell them, put that money in the classroom, not in administration.”
The teachers are questioning why the number of teachers, counselors and therapists is declining in the proposed PPS budget. The district told KOIN 6 News they don’t anticipate any layoffs, but that they are reducing staffing through people retiring.
“There is a reduction of (full-time equivalent). I want to acknowledge that,” said PPS Chief of Staff Jonathan Garcia. “And that comes from enrollment decline here in Portland and across the state are experiencing enrollment decline. So we are staffing our schools to the appropriate level based on the number of students that we have in our schools.”
Garcia said the number of administrators is increasing, due to a designation change — they’re turning nine athletic directors into administrators.
“We continue to focus on making sure our classrooms are excellent places of learning for all of our students. Our priority will continue to be that – whether it’s for summer school, high dosage tutoring, making sure that our class sizes stay at an average that we can all be excited about,” Garcia said.
The teacher’s union says they’ll continue to fight for better outcomes in the classroom.
“We’re here to tell them that it’s important to listen to the folks on the ground because the people closest to the pain are closest to the solutions,” Bonilla said.
The superintendent said while they are hopeful to get more funding from the state, it is still not guaranteed and he thinks they need to move forward with the budget they currently have.
Late in the night, the board voted to approve the budget after arguing over whether to allocate funding toward public safety associates instead of for more mental health supports, among other issues.
The board is scheduled to adopt the budget on June 13. But it is highly likely board members will come back with proposed amendments before the budget is officially adopted on June 13.
If there are any financial shifts from Salem they can come back to the drawing board to figure out how to amend the budget and spend the additional funding that comes through.
“We’re trying to navigate this path because Salem hasn’t done its job,” Scott said.