Oregon Legislators to Portland School Board: Find Your Own Money

Portland-area elected officials are “surprised to hear accusations” that schools are underfunded.

Sixteen Oregon legislators sent a letter last night to Portland Public Schools’ board members that encourages them to check under their own couch cushions for money to settle the teachers’ strike and to be grateful for what they were given in the spring.

“PPS needs to right size its priorities, refocusing on classroom and student learning investments, and cutting superfluous administration spending,” says the letter, first reported this morning by The Oregonian.

The Portland-area legislators, including Senate President Rob Wagner (D-Lake Oswego) and Majority Leader Kate Lieber (D-Portland), criticize the school district for spending too much on administration. PPS spends about 48% of its budget in the classroom while comparable districts spend about 55%; PPS spends about 6% on administration while comparable districts spend 2% to 3%, according to the letter.

Notably, signatories refusing to pony up more state funding included Portland’s most vocally progressive lawmakers: Reps. Mark Gamba, Travis Nelson, Khanh Pham and Andrea Valderrama, all Democrats, and Sen. Kayse Jama (D-East Portland). The letter ends with a pointed pep talk to the School Board: “It is time that you, as the elected leaders of the school district, take the reins of the situation.”

Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero addressed administrative spending at a press conference at district headquarters Wednesday, the first day of the Portland Association of Teachers strike.

“We’re going to take every measure and find every efficiency,” Guerrero said. “We could cut half the people in this building—which, mind you, help to coordinate a lot of services and programming in our school campuses—but that would simply be insufficient.”

According to Guerrero, the central office makes up 5% of the school district’s overall budget. Even if the district found $20 million in administrative cuts, that would barely put a dent in the approximately $220 million gap that currently separates PPS and PAT at the bargaining table.

The letter also rehashes the school funding debate from the spring, in which Oregon K-12 schools got $10.2 billion ($10.3 billion, including $100 million in local tax revenue).

“We were surprised to hear accusations that the Oregon Legislature did not adequately fund schools this past legislative session,” write the legislators. “This is the most money ever allocated to Oregon’s kids and teachers in a two-year budget cycle.”

The state’s own Quality Education Model, though, calls for a funding level of $11.9 billion for the 2023-25 biennium, a fact that PPS leaders were quick to point out on Wednesday.

“The funding has not kept pace with the needs of our students nor our educators,” Guerrero said. “Nor does it invest in K-12 schools at the level indicated by the state’s own Quality Education Model. Let’s sit with that for a moment. The state of Oregon is not funding what they themselves have identified as a quality education for Oregon students.”

PPS and PAT are back at the bargaining table today and “we hope over the weekend as well,” says Cheryl Proctor, PPS’s deputy superintendent. Enough families lashed out at the district for skipping Wednesday and Thursday that Proctor had to write a letter last night explaining the delay. She said the mediator set the bargaining meeting for Friday.

“We have consistently said to her and to you, our community, that our bargaining team would meet whenever—Wednesday, Thursday, day, night, etc.,” Proctor wrote.

The school district will notify families Sunday, Nov. 5, at 7 pm if schools can reopen Monday morning.

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.