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Despite bond passage, staff cuts loom

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On May 16, Portland voters took to the booth to determine the fate of Portland Public School’s $790 million dollar bond to repair its schools.

And with 66 percent of the vote, the bond passed, ensuring the rebuilding of Lincoln High School and the restoration of three others: Benson Polytechnic High, Madison High School, and Kellogg Middle School, which has been closed, but should now reopen in the next few years.

However, the bond is only for capital improvements, and there are other areas within Portland schools that still lack funding.

The district will face rather significant cuts to other services in the 2017-2018 budget. Specifically, a 27 percent cut in administrative and operational staff, and a 14 percent cut to instructional staff. That means that $4.2 million will be cut from the administration, and $2.2 million will be cut from teaching staff. That’s not to mention another 14 percent cut from transportation and utilities, another $2.2 million reduction.

According to The Oregonian, that translates the about 70 teaching positions and as many as 47 other positions, districtwide.

For Lincoln, Principal Peyton Chapman said that about nine full-time employees are likely to be removed, or about 10 percent of Lincoln’s staff.  She said mostly support staff (counselors, etc.) would be cut due to attrition, which is teachers and others leaving the school and not being replaced.

She said that originally the number was 10 full-time employees but the number was reduced because the Friends of Lincoln Foundation was able to help cover the cost of one employee’s salary: Jim Hanson, the school psychologist.

PPS spokesman David Northfield said the issues still facing PPS are related to the way the state of Oregon funds public schools.

“The largest portion of general fund revenue comes from the state school fund,” Northfield said.  He explained that the state school fund comes from the state’s general fund and is appropriated by the state legislature during each budget cycle.

There is not a dedicated funding stream for K-12 education in Oregon, so the state school fund starts from scratch every time, he said.

“State revenues are not growing at the rate we need to support our K-12 schools,” he said. “Even though Oregon’s economy is doing well, the state has very large obligations that helped create a $1.6 billion deficit over the next two years. Two very big pieces of that are Oregon’s obligation for expanded Medicaid[…], and pension fund obligations for public employee retirees.”

The cuts across the district mean students  might see  larger class sizes, reduced elective offerings, and a possible shortage of available buses for sports teams, Northfield said.

The bond is what Lincoln students and parents have been asking for. The school has been in dire need of remodeling or replacing after the discovery of lead in the water and asbestos in the ceilings, among other things.

While Lincoln will be replaced, the other schools will go through massive renovation. PPS plans to remove lead paint, fix deterioration within the buildings, and improve access for students with disabilities. The district also plans to reduce overcrowding and modernize all of the schools.

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