Amid Split Community Support Portland Public Schools Board Approves Fundraising Change 

In a contentious decision, the Portland Public Schools governing board voted on Tuesday night last week to change the way school fundraising will be used to pay for staff in the district. The new policy will shift from the current practice of individual school foundations to a central, districtwide foundation handling fundraising efforts.

The Portland Medium found that there are currently 31 local school foundations, known as LSFs, across the district’s 80-plus campuses. These foundations raise funds to pay employees at their respective schools, with some raising more than others and not all foundations contributing to staffing expenses. The district’s Parent Fund Awards distribute the remainder of the funds raised by the foundations to other schools based on income levels. However, there are schools that do not have foundations and therefore do not qualify for the awards.

According to a staff report filed to the board, local foundations contributed $2.5 million to Portland schools in the 2022-23 academic year. Approximately $1.75 million was allocated to individual foundations, while $729,000 went to the awards fund. This money supported nearly 32 full-time equivalent positions at schools with foundations and approximately nine positions at schools receiving the grants. This represents a small fraction of the district’s total of around 8,000 employees.

The funds raised by the foundations have been used for various staffing needs, such as hiring more educational assistants, covering the salaries of school secretaries, converting part-time positions into full-time, and providing additional hours for physical education or art teachers.

Portland’s approach to fundraising has been unique, but it has been in place for years without revision. Tuesday’s decision marks the first policy revision in about two decades. The school board approved the change on a 5-2 vote, with members Andrew Scott and Patte Sullivan dissenting. Student representative Frankie Silverstein expressed support for the revision.

Under the revised policy, a districtwide foundation will be established to oversee fundraising allocations. Instead of a school-by-school approach, a centralized model will be implemented across all schools. It’s important to note that this change only applies to funds used to pay for staff. Non-staff fundraising efforts, including booster clubs and PTAs, will remain unchanged.

Moving forward, all donations designated for staff will be collected by the designated foundation and deposited into a single, combined account. School foundations, nonprofits, corporations, businesses, and individuals can still contribute funds. A Parent Advisory Committee, facilitated by the nonprofit Fund for PPS, will develop a new formula to determine how the money is distributed. The formula will be informed by input from school administrators and must be approved by the school board in advance.

Supporters of the revised policy argue that the Parent Advisory Committee will also serve as an advocacy branch to secure more state and federal funding for Oregon public schools. The Fund for PPS will act as a convener and support advocacy efforts at all levels within the framework of its nonprofit rules. The revised policy also includes provisions for annual reporting to the board, ensuring transparency regarding donations, expenditures, and major projects.

Furthermore, the policy specifies that entities fundraising for individual schools must provide opportunities for all community members to participate, prohibiting exclusive events with high entry costs. It also prohibits individual schools from setting fundraising targets based on the number of families or students. The changes will come into effect on July 1, but there is a transition buffer in place for donations collected by local school foundations for staff over the past year. These carryover funds will be used as intended by the donors in the upcoming school year.