The Oregonian, Friday, Dec. 15, 1995, pp. E1 & E5

Portland schools face budget cuts

  • The system, which is in tough contract talks with the teachers' union, may be forced to lay off more than 400 employees

    By Alicia Di Rado
    of the Oregonian staff

    More than 400 employees in the Portland Public Schools would be laid off and thousands of dollars would be cut from special programs under cost-saving plans issued Thursday night at a school board meeting.

    District Superintendent Jack Bierwirth submitted a list of proposed cuts for the 57,266-student district, which will have $12.8 million less to spend next year. The cuts come as the district is mired in difficult contract negotiations with its teachers' union.

    Despite the cuts, Bierwirth said he will continue his drive toward raising academic standards for Portland's students. But disappointing budget figures mean that goal may be a difficult one.

    "For the first time since I've been here, the resources we'll have next year call into question the ability - through no fault of their own - of teachers and principals to deliver thekind of quality education that my kids, and the 57,000 other kids, have received in the past three years," Bierwirth said.

    The most recent state aid estimates indicate the Portland Public Schools can finance a budget of $306.3 million for the 1996-97 school year, a decrease from budgeted spending of $319.1 million in 1995-96.

    District officials will see fewer dollars because the district will receive $8 million from the state for the 1995-96 and 1996-97 school years. The district also spent about $4.5 million out of its fund balance.

    Many board members Thursday decried the way schools have been supported after the adoption of Measure 5, which set limits on money that school districts may receive from local property taxes. Districts now rely more heavily on money provided by the state.

    "We have been, in essence, divorced from our community in funding," said Marc Abrams, a board member, as he pledged to three Democratic state legislators sitting in the audience. "We need help."

    State Rep. Avel Gordly, D-Portland, replied that district officials probably won't get far asking for help from a Legislature with an "unevenness in understanding of educational issues."

    "I don't think we're going to be equipped to deal with the needs of this district," Gordly said.

    Barring last-minute increases in revenue, a sampling of cost-saving measures that could hit the district include cutting money or employees at early childhood programs in several schools, cutting arts magnets at Jefferson High and Buckman Elementary schools and cutting environmental studies at Madison High School.

    Bierwirth's recommendations will go to a local school councils and a citizens review board, as well as to parents and others who will comment on the suggestions before the school board adopts a budget in mid-March.

    The proposed reductions are for the fiscal year starting July 1, 1996. But within the last two weeks, schools and departments within the district have trimmed their spending by thousands of dollars to accommodate last-minute shortfalls in this year's budget.

    That scrimping pales when compared with Bierwirth's new proposals. Some 390 to 395 full-time-equivalent instructional positions - such as teachers, librarians and counselors - would be eliminated. Another 30 to 35 full-time-equivalent administrative or support positions would be cut.

    The actual number of employees who lose jobs could be significantly greater because many positions are less than full-time.

    That could mean as many a seven [sic] or eight fewer employees at a 1,500-student high school, for example.

    Potential layoffs and other cuts sombered James K. Sager, president of the Portland Association of Teachers.

    But he said district officials could have saved money if they had followed the teachers union's suggestion more than a year ago: Refrain from hiring new teachers for hundreds of teaching positions that were vacated.

    "Now these teachers are finding out their jobs don't exist," Sager said.

    Bierwirth said some of the jobs districtwide may be eliminated through retirements.

    Many employees could know by March or April whether they might be laid off, he said.


    Superintendent Jack Bierwirth's recommendations for balancing next year's Portland Public Schools budget emphasize job cuts. Here are the highlights:

  • HIGH SCHOOLS: Reduce one vice principal per high school. Savings: $750,000

  • MIDDLE SCHOOLS: Reduce one assistant principal in each of five schools, or the equivalent in other workers. Savings: $295,000.

  • SCHOOL BUILDINGS: Reduce staff by 305 to 335 full-time-equivalent positions, mainly teachers and instructional staff. Savings: $14.2 million.

  • PROGRAMS: Cut positions or district money to 18 schools for special programs. $1.3 million.

  • REGIONAL OFFICES: Close field administrative offices that oversee clusters of schools. Relocate or lay off regional workers. Savings: $500,000.

  • KINDERGARTENS: Suspend full-day kindergartens, except in early childhood education centers. Savings: $400,000.

  • SPORTS: Raise fees for interscholastic athletics by $10 and increase admission fees by 50 cents. New revenue: $30,000-$40,000.


    Parents, teachers, administrators, students and others will be able to give suggestions in the coming months on how the Portland Public Schools spend money.

  • Week of Jan. 2: Superintendent Jack Bierwirth will send a letter to parents about the budget. Anyone interested can read copies of the "People's Budget," which will be placed in all school and district offices.

  • Month of January: Local school advisory committees and cluster advisory committees will review the budget.

  • Feb. 1-March 14: Seven public hearings on the budget will be held on Thursday nights in various locations around Portland.

  • March 14: Portland School Board meeting to approve the budget.

  • For more information on the budget:

    Beginning in January, call (503) 331-3304.

    Information will also be available electronically and on the World Wide Web.

    Send an electronic mail message to, or point your Web browser to



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