Portland Public Schools Faces Budget Challenges, Considers $2.4 Billion Proposal

Interim Superintendent Sandy Husk recently unveiled her proposed budget, which will be presented to the school board on Wednesday evening. Portland Public Schools, Oregon’s largest school district, is gearing up for the spring budget process as it confronts a $30 million deficit and the possibility of cutting approximately 250 positions districtwide. The budget plan totals $2.39 billion and covers the education of about 44,500 students across 80-plus schools and programs.

Husk’s proposal will undergo further discussion and public testimony opportunities in May, with the board set to vote on adopting a final budget in June. The $2.4 billion figure includes bond funds and other dedicated revenue streams, some of which cannot be easily adjusted by district officials. The day-to-day operations of the district, funded by special revenue and general funds, amount to approximately $1 billion in the draft budget. While this represents a slight increase of around $600,000 compared to last year, officials argue that it is insufficient to keep up with rising costs. The marginal bump in funding is attributed to an increase in state funding and a decrease in federal funding. Husk emphasized that her proposed budget closely aligns with the plan left by former Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero when he stepped down in February.

Portland Public Schools is not the only district grappling with a challenging budget season. Schools across Oregon and Southwest Washington are facing substantial budget cuts and the possibility of mass layoffs. Salem-Keizer Public Schools, for instance, anticipates cutting roughly 400 positions, which accounts for about 7% of its total workforce, marking the district’s largest reduction in over a decade. In some cases, districts like Gervais may even need to consider closure.

Educators throughout the region have highlighted several factors contributing to the difficult budget year. These factors include rising costs, limited state funding, the expiration of federal COVID relief funds, increased student needs resulting from the pandemic, and declining student enrollment.

Portland’s budget challenges are compounded by the fact that the district experienced its first-ever teachers’ strike last fall, which lasted almost the entire month of November. The lack of clarity and specifics provided by the district regarding proposed cuts has frustrated many families, educators, and community members.

Husk assured that the proposed budget document will provide more detailed information, which will be presented to the school board this week. Out of the 250 cuts, approximately 100 are instructional positions, 136 pertain to support services, and the remaining 14 are categorized under “enterprise and community services” and “facilities acquisition and construction.” Decisions regarding school-level cuts are predominantly made by individual school administrators.

Regarding staff members based at the district’s central offices, a memo sent to families last week indicated that around 110 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions will be reduced, contributing to the overall 250 cuts. Approximately 40% of the central office cuts will come from vacant positions, managed through a hiring freeze that the district implemented in November in anticipation of the budget shortfall.

Some central office employees were informed last week that their positions would be eliminated, including staff in student support services, professional learning and leadership, and maintenance. Additionally, Portland intends to decrease superintendent cabinet-level positions based on current vacancies and interim roles, with the goal of reducing the layers of leadership between principals and the superintendent.

While some staffing reductions or position eliminations were announced to staff members in mid-February, records indicate that the breakdown of FTE allocations initially provided to principals based on enrollment projections only represents a fraction of the anticipated cuts. The Portland Medium will report more on this when the full extent of the cuts become clearer as the budget process unfolds.