By Alicia Di Rado
and Steven Carter
of The Oregonian staff
Portland Public Schools' leaders are grappling with budget problems that may lead to significant layoffs, changes in programs and other reductions next year.
Superintendent Jack Bierwirth and other district officials will examine ways to slim the district budget before Bierwirth gives his annual budget message, scheduled for Thursday's school board meeting.
Bierwirth said cost-trimming measures could include at least 350 job cuts. According to state aid information, disclosed in mid-November, the 57,266-student Portland school system will have a budget of $308 million in 1996-97, about $12 less than its budget this school year.
The district's share of state education money has shrunk because enrollment in Portland has remained steady, while that of other Oregon districts has grown.
Passage of the Measure 5 property tax limit in 1990 dramatically changed the amount of money available for Oregon schools. Since 1993, Portland Public Schools have 630 jobs from maintenance, administration and other areas.
That's far less than the 2,000 jobs that district officials originally predicted would be lost, but board members know that eliminating jobs and halting popular programs makes people nervous.
"Anything we cut now will make somebody mad and will constitute a real cut to kids' education," said Marty Howard, a board member.
Bierwirth said his recommendations to the board Thursday will follow a strategy he has used before: eliminate expenditures outside the classroom before affecting teachers.
"We will make cuts in the administrative areas first, even areas that have been cut 40, 50 or 60 percent already," Bierwirth said. Staff members at schools might be laid off, including people such as counselors, librarians and possibly teachers, but no decisions have been made.
The budget deliberations come at a critical time for the school district, as the 4,000-member Portland Association of Teachers is in the midst of difficult contract talks with a district bargainers. [sic] The teachers have worked without a contract since July 1 and are seeking cost-of-living increases, which they did not receive last year.
Hundreds of other support employees, such as custodians and secretaries, also are working without contracts.
"It's my understanding there's a special session of the Legislature (in January), and we will ask the governor to fix the $12 million gap, if that's a reality," said Virginia Ross, a member of the Portland Association of Teachers' bargaining team.
"The reality is we can't continue to convince people that nothing has happened as the result of Measure 5," she said. "It hit us and it hit us very hard. ... The district has been able to protect the classroom, but that may be at an end."
Bierwirth said options include reducing the number of days in the school year. That was proposed last year as well, but a shortened year was averted when teachers approved a contract that gave $8 million of their health and welfare trust funds to the district.
Individual schools will be able to determine some of the cuts that affect them, Bierwirth said. Officials will also hold hearings for public input.
"The district has looked under every stone for ways to save money, and we've just about run out of places to look," board member Sue Hagmeier said.
"We are going to have to look at very worthy programs versus class size."
Romel Hernandez of The Oregonian staff contributed to this report.
to the Oregon Services Plundered for Drug War page.
to the Oregon Schools Plundered for Drug War page.
This URL: http://www.pdxnorml.org/layoffs.html