Last night, I addressed the PPS Board on their plan to reduce 120 teaching positions next year, creating Kindergartens of up to 29 students, 2nd grades classes of up to 32 students, and 5th through 8th grade classes up to 35 students.
The text of my remarks is below. You can also watch the recording of the board meeting here.
Remarks by PAT President, Elizabeth Thiel, on PPS Staffing Cuts
PPS School Board Meeting 2/22/22
Hello Chair De Pass, Superintendent Guerrero, Student Rep Weinberg, and members of the board. Thank you for allowing me to address you this evening.
The last two school years have been incredibly difficult for our students, school communities, and staff. Looking to next year, we have an incredible opportunity to MAKE things BETTER.
But the staffing cuts that PPS rolled out last week– around 120 teaching positions cut – do the opposite.
I want to talk to you tonight about how we can correct course, to prioritize our students and stabilize our schools.
Enrollment and Funding
We’ve heard a lot from the District about the decline in enrollment over the last 2 years, and this has been cited as a reason for cutting teacher positions.
Typically, we assume school funding is tied to enrollment numbers, so fewer students means less funding. But that is not exactly how it works in Oregon. The legislature sets an overall K-12 budget, and then divides it amongst districts based on the proportion of students they enroll.
This school year, enrollment is down across the state. There are almost 30 thousand fewer students enrolled in Oregon schools this year, which broadly matches the declines we’ve seen here in PPS.
But the total amount of funding from the state – $9.3 billion in the 2021-23 biennium – has not gone down. If anything, we are likely to see an increase in state support next year, given the $800 million increase in projected revenue announced two weeks ago.
With stable state funding divided among fewer students across Oregon, the state is actually projecting more funding per-student for PPS and other districts.
That means we have the opportunity and the responsibility to give each student MORE next year.
In PPS, we also have several other significant sources of funding, and these sources are also stable, despite the drop in enrollment. We have:
- Stable funding from the Student Success Act, which was passed in 2019 specifically to LOWER class sizes and provide more social-emotional supports to students.
- Stable funding from the Teacher Levy, which voters renewed in order to support smaller class sizes.
- Continued funding from the Arts Tax.
Again, these sources are providing stable funding, despite the decrease in enrollment.
There is NO FUNDING SHORTAGE that requires PPS to cut teachers and raise class sizes.
AND, in addition to all these ongoing sources of revenue, we have a windfall of federal support, totaling $120 million dollars. These funds must be spent in the next 2 years. This money is specifically meant to protect students and school districts from cuts and disruptions like the ones PPS has begun rolling out.
All this means that we have an opportunity to make next year a BETTER YEAR. We finally have the funding, and the classroom space, to lower class sizes, which is exactly what our students and educators need.
However, this is not the course we are currently on.
Last week, PPS announced a reduction of over 120 teacher positions in elementary and middle schools across the District, negatively impacting almost all of our schools.
The rationale for doing so has been to increase class sizes to match the District’s pre-pandemic staffing ratios. These class sizes were too high then, and they are MUCH TOO HIGH now.
PPS’S staffing ratios call for:
- Kindergartens up to 29 students
- 2nd grades up to 32 students
- 5th through 8th grade classes up to 35 students
We fully support the District’s efforts to provide better class sizes in our CSI and Title I schools, including capping CSI Kindergarten at 24. This is an important step, but we need to do MUCH MORE.
Even our CSI schools– which serve our students with the greatest needs, will have class sizes of 34 for 4th and 5th grade and in middle school– according to the District’s current plan.
WE CAN DO MUCH BETTER, and we must.
A week ago, building principals shared staffing allocations with school faculty. After a year defined by persistent staffing shortages and increased student needs, news of these cuts was an additional and unexpected blow to morale among educators and other school staff.
Here are some examples of how the 120 cut positions will be impacting students and schools:
- At Peninsula Elementary, a TSI School, next year 2nd grade will have 30 students in a classroom. Remember, next year’s 2nd graders experienced kindergarten online. This year, in first grade, they are learning not only regular 1st grade skills, but also catching up on things that are typically such an important part of kindergarten, like how to sit at a desk and how to hold scissors. Those same students will be in a single-strand 2nd grade class of 30. At the same school, two sections of 5th grade are being collapsed into one section of 32 11-year-olds.
- Scott Elementary, a CSI school, will be combining 4th and 5th grades, to avoid having class sizes in the mid 30s. That means teachers will be forced to split their time planning and teaching the curriculum for two grade levels.
- Beach Elementary has to choose between having a full time school secretary or a full-time librarian; and whether to cut their instructional specialist, or blend grade levels to avoid class sizes in the mid 30s. These are not fair choices.
- Elementary school students across the District will have class sizes in the 30s, including at Grout, Markham, Richmond, Glencoe, Atkinson, Alameda, Laurelhurst, and Sunnyside, among others.
- School communities will be losing beloved educators who want to stay with their students and colleagues: including at Sitton, Rigler, Buckman, Abernethy, Lewis, Beverly Cleary, Harrison Park, and Vernon.
- Middle schools, which have struggled this year to maintain safe and supportive learning environments, given the increased level of student need, are collectively losing 44 teachers.
- All our middle schools are staffed to have class sizes of 34 or 35, CSI and Title I schools included.
We talk about the importance of relationships and stability for our middle school students. YET:
- Ockley Green is losing 3.5 teaching positions
- Kellogg MS is losing 6 teachers
- Mt Tabor is losing 5 teachers
- Our High Schools are not losing staffing overall because they are understaffed this year and will continue to be understaffed next year. Our high school students are frequently in classes with over 30 students, and many educators have over 180 students to build relationships with.
This is NOT what our students need after two years of disruption and instability.
SO I want to come back to our opportunity to make next year a BETTER YEAR.
The combination of lower enrollment, stable funding from local and state sources, and $120 million dollars in Federal relief funding, means that we have the resources necessary to give our students what they need: more individual attention from their teachers, calm and safe classrooms, and more opportunities for personal connections, engagement, and support.
As a board, you always aim to be student-centered in your decision-making. When we talk about the budget and staffing, that means prioritizing direct supports for students. Cutting teachers should be the LAST resort, not the first step before a budget has even been developed.
I realize that things feel a little out of order. As a board, you have not yet been asked to approve the PPS budget– that doesn’t happen until April. But these staffing cuts are happening NOW. Principles have already presented these cuts to staff, and in the next week, will begin formally unassigning teachers. And after being unassigned from their schools, many teachers are likely to look for jobs in other districts or other fields, which will only make our staffing shortage worse.
If we stay on this path, we are choosing to implement pre-pandemic staffing levels and class sizes, which already fell short of meeting our students’ needs.
But there is another path, and we are asking you to take it. Every parent and educator knows that students thrive when they have the support and attention they need and deserve. Instead of cutting teachers, please direct the District to CUT CLASS SIZES.
The resources are available and the need is undeniable.
I’m here tonight because it’s not too late yet to fix this, if the Board takes action now.
You can direct the District to pause on unassigning educators, and instead improve the staffing ratios and put those 120+ teaching positions back in classrooms where our students need them.
Thank you for listening, and for taking the initiative to put us on a better path while we still have the chance.
Portland Association of Teachers