Portland Public Schools' Superintendent Carole Smith
has proposed the wholesale elimination of either physical education programs or a combination of other electives like art, music and foreign language to balance next year's budget for the district's elementary, K-8 and middle schools.
And the cuts to the district's $445 million general fund don't end there. As PPS struggles to fill a sudden $19 million gap in state funding amid the recession, the superintendent also has proposed cutting 60 teaching positions at the district's high schools and dramatically increasing class sizes for high-school students who already face crowded classrooms.
The response from the superintendent to eliminate a total of 203 positions, including up to 25 FTE at the central office, comes after the Portland Association of Teachers union declined
to accept a wage freeze that would have created $6.4 million in long-term savings. The union just four months ago settled its contract for 2010-11, which includes 2 percent cost-of-living increases for the district's 3,000-plus teachers and guidance counselors.
No vulnerable program was left behind in today's announcement by the superintendent: Smith's proposal today also called for cutting 52 positions in the district's special education and English-as-a-second-language departments.
Faced with grim options, principals supported the idea of making wholesale cuts to the district's electives in elementary, middle and K-8 schools, Smith said, because that would minimize the variability
among primary-school programs that compete for students. "We want a consistent approach," Smith said principals told her.
The School Board members present for the announcement today said the cuts were painful no matter how the superintendent sliced them. One board member, David Wynde, called today's budget talk "the worst conversation" he'd had since his election to the board seven years ago.
"They're all important," Smith said of the programs on the chopping block. "They're all hard to cut."