Last night, I addressed the PPS Board again on their plan to cut teaching positions and raise class sizes next year.
Since last week, state funding estimates have been published, so we are now able to verify that PPS is not facing the 8% reduction in state funding that they projected when they first announced their intention to cut teachers.
As of the most recent information we have been given, PPS is still moving forward with the reduction of 65 elementary teacher positions and 31.5 middle school teacher positions, and raising class sizes to pre-pandemic levels in most cases.
The full text of my remarks is below, and you can view the slides I presented here. You can also watch the recording of the board meeting here. Please also watch powerful public testimony by PAT members and students into the meeting.
Remarks by PAT President, Elizabeth Thiel, on PPS Staffing Cuts, March 1st, 2022
Hello Chair De Pass, Superintendent Guerrero, Student Rep Weinberg, and members of the board. Thank you for allowing me to address you again this evening.
Last week, I came before you to talk about proposed staffing cuts, which will reduce the number of teaching positions in PPS and increase class sizes across the district.
I asked you to take a different path. I am here today because, while PPS has proceeded with cuts, there is still time to change course and make next year a BETTER year. And we have additional information now that makes that pathway even clearer.
At the board meeting last week, PPS staff presented a thorough presentation on district funding. Thank you for providing that in this public forum.
Having had time to review the presentation, I want to continue the conversation tonight.
First, some good news:
Since I spoke to you last week, Oregon published its state fund estimates for next year. The outcome is good news for PPS. PPS presented last week an anticipated enrollment loss of 3500, or 8%. But the weighted change in PPS enrollment is just 3.5%.
At the same time, weighted per-pupil funding is going up.
This means that PPS now has assurance that we will be receiving slightly more money from the state next year than this year, not less, and significantly more funding for each student.
This puts PPS in a much better position than when you projected that an 8% decline in enrollment could also create an 8% drop in funding.
This is, of course, in addition to the Teacher Levy dollars, the Arts Tax, and the SSI, which are also stable despite lower enrollment, and the $112 million in ESSER funds which must be invested in our students sometime over the next 2 years.
This is all really positive news, and reinforces the conclusion that there is not a funding shortfall that requires us to cut teachers and raise class sizes. Rather, we can and must give each of our students MORE.
Now, I have a few questions about PPS Spending.
As of last week, PPS presented projections that PPS is planning to spend an additional $48 million next year above this year’s spending.
The good news is that I think we are on the same page that we DO have additional resources to invest in our students-- a 7% increase according to this slide.
My question is, what is the plan for this additional spending? Why cut teachers while increasing spending by $48 million?
I’m particularly interested in what cuts from the central office are planned?
Cuts to direct services to students should be the LAST resort, as just about each one of you told us when you were running for this board.
Finally, I want to talk about enrollment projections for next year.
Last week PPS presented a chart showing the historical and projected enrollment in our schools.
During the year of Distance Learning, we lost students (green line). Last year, the district projected that those students would come back (blue line).
Then Delta hit, and we started the school year during the height of the most deadly surge of COVID-19, while children under 12 were still unable to be vaccinated. Many families remained on a waitlist for the Online Learning Academy for months. Some families chose to keep their children at home, or to enroll in online programs outside the district.
It appears that PPS is no longer anticipating that those students will ever come back (orange line).
Other parents and community members I talk to know families who ARE planning to come back to their neighborhood school next year, and we need to be ready for them.
In the fortunate (and likely) event that those families do choose to come back to PPS (purple line, my addition), we have not planned for that. A school that we are staffing now to have 31 in each 1st grade class, may actually end up with 33 or 34.
We could try to add positions in the fall to account for those students coming back, but it is unlikely we will be able to fill them, as teachers will have already accepted jobs.
There is a better way. We can make this a school district that families WANT to come back to, and to stay in.
We do that by investing in our students, by lowering our class sizes, so students can get the attention and support they need.
Now some more good news:
I was told late last week that PPS had lowered the maximum middle school class size from 35 to 33 in Title I middle schools, and 34 in other schools. I am told this added back 12 teaching positions. Thank you. Let’s do more.
We are still cutting 31.5 positions for middle school. Instead of reducing the number of educators, could we lower middle school class sizes to no higher than 32? How about no higher than 30 in our Title I schools like Harriet Tubman, Lane, and Roseway Heights, Ockley Green, and George?
Let’s keep going!
PPS is currently eliminating 65 elementary teacher positions. Instead, we could utilize those positions to bring class sizes down, starting with our CSI schools. Instead of 4th and 5th grades up to 32 students in CSI schools like Rigler and Sitton, why not keep those class sizes under 30?
Our Title I schools, like James John and Harrison Park, have Kindergarten and 1st grade classes of up to 28! How about we allocate some of those 65 positions so that we could cap those at 26?
If there is still FTE left over after that, we could keep going and invest in smaller class sizes in all our schools.
We STILL have the opportunity to make next year a better year.
The resources are available and the need is undeniable.
Unassignments are already becoming official, but teachers haven’t left yet. You can still direct the District to improve the staffing ratios, and make next year a better year for the students we have, and the students we hope to get back.
Thank you again for listening, and for taking the initiative to put us on a better path while we still have the chance.
Elizabeth Thiel, PAT President