Next year, we expect PPS to have more funding than we have ever seen. So we were shocked to learn this week that instead of taking this opportunity to invest in smaller class sizes and direct supports to students, PPS is planning to cut approximately 120 educators from schools.
Earlier this month, I wrote about the need for PPS to prioritize stability in our schools. As we plan for next year, PPS has the opportunity to show real leadership in strengthening our school communities– starting with providing enough staff to meet the needs of our students, and to retain our talented educators.
After the last two years, it is unconscionable to cut staff from our school system. Looking at the numbers, it is also completely unnecessary.
While PPS wrote to PPS families today about “maintaining” 40 positions, they did not mention the 121 elementary and middle school teacher positions they plan to cut from classrooms across the District. They also failed to mention that there is no budget shortfall necessitating ANY cuts from schools.
For educators being unassigned from their school communities, and students and families learning of the loss of beloved educators, the news of these cuts is demoralizing, confusing, and destabilizing.
The District’s rationale for cutting staff from schools is that PPS has fewer students than before the pandemic. In fact, PPS is projecting about 3,400 fewer students next year than pre-pandemic, an 8% difference. Many districts in the state are in the same boat, with about 30,000 fewer students in Oregon public schools than in the 2019-20 school year.
However, it is a false conclusion that 8% fewer students equals an 8% cut in funding. Here is how school funding works in Oregon: each biennium, lawmakers set aside a given amount of money for the state schools fund, and this amount is divided by the number of students in the state. Because there are fewer students statewide, there is more funding to support each student in the state. PPS is actually projected to receive MORE funding per student from the state school fund next year, and more funding overall, despite the drop in enrollment.
This gives PPS the opportunity to do exactly what our students and educators need: improve class sizes, reduce caseloads, and add direct supports for students across the district. Instead, the plan they released this week is to cut teachers from elementary and middle schools, allowing class-sizes as high as 29 in Kindergarten.
The District’s plan to cut staff is even more outrageous given all the additional funding coming to the District which can and should be used to reduce class sizes:
The Student Success Act, the result of our collective action, including tens of thousands of educators rallying statewide on May 8, 2019, will bring PPS about $35 million for next school year. These funds are specifically meant to reduce class sizes and support students’ behavioral and mental health needs.
In addition to that new funding, PPS has received over $116 million in federal ESSR funds, much of which remains unspent. These funds must be used by September, 2024 or be returned to the Department of Education.
On top of federal and state funding, our community has shown up again and again to support schools by voting for the Teachers Levy and the Arts tax, which together provide over $100 million to PPS. Both funds are expressly for the purpose of increasing the number of educators in our schools.
With the combination of all these funds, PPS should be investing in our students by dramatically reducing class sizes and caseloads. Instead, they plan to cut up to $18 million dollars in direct services to students, in a system that is already stretched beyond the breaking point.
Of course, if PPS really does believe it is necessary to implement budget cuts in our district despite all this new funding, schools and classrooms are the LAST place they should cut.
Our students deserve a district that puts direct services to students FIRST.