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Portland Public Schools adopts $ 579 million general fund budget

Cuts were not needed, despite earlier warnings

TRIBUNE PHOTO: SHASTA KEARNS MOORE - The Portland Public Schools board, absent Directors Pam Knowles and Bobbie Regan, adopted the 2015-16 budget Tuesday evening.

In one of their final acts before a substantially different board takes the reins, Portland Public Schools’ board of directors adopted a $1.2 billion consolidated budget Tuesday evening.

Of that, $579 million was in marginally discretionary general funds and the rest in earmarked grants, subsidies and construction bond funds.

Matt Morton, outgoing Zone 2 director, said he felt the budget had become a more adaptable document over the four years of his tenure.

“It isn’t definitive,” Morton said, “this is something that’s progressive.”

During the 2014-15 fiscal year, the board amended the budget three times when the district found and allocated new monies, such as the $7.5 million in February.

The just-approved 2015-16 budget may need to be revised as well. The 2015 Oregon Legislature approved a $7.255 billion State School Fund, but analysts predict about another $105 million will be added as new revenues come in during the rebounding economy. The funds may go towards the 2016-17 budget, however, as the state budget has to last for two years.

As the state’s largest school district, PPS receives approximately 8 percent of the State School Fund, which is allocated by the Oregon Department of Education based on enrollment.

Superintendent Carole Smith’s warnings in March that PPS would need to make cuts if the legislature did not approve a $7.5 billion State School Fund did not come to fruition.

“Because of the local option and because we had a strong level of reserves going into next year, we are not in a position where we had to make cuts,” said Deputy Chief Financial Officer David Wynde said, referring to a rainy day fund and a local option levy that voters renewed last November.

The rainy day fund, called a contingency fund, now stands at 2.6 percent though the board wants it to be more like 3 percent.

The five-year local option levy allowed PPS to take advantage of legislation successfully lobbied for by David Williams, the district’s government affairs specialist who is leaving for Beaverton School District next month. House Bill 2632-A prevented urban renewal districts from siphoning off money generated from new local option levies, saving the district millions of dollars.

Director Greg Belisle still criticized the legislature for not doing enough for Oregon schools and urged voters to reform Oregon’s “Frankentax” system created by Measures 5 and 50.

“The citizens in Oregon and throughout Portland can change this and ... fix this boom-bust cycle in Oregon because it puts our students at a disadvantage year after year,” Belisle said.

If all this tax talk is confusing, there are some who understood it. Multnomah County’s Tax Supervising and Conservation Commission gave the PPS budget a nod and so did the Citizen Budget Review Committee.

But Director Steve Buel held out on the board as a lone no vote on the budget. (Director Bobbie Regan, who was absent for her final meeting on the board, had also voted against the budget at a May 26 meeting.)

Buel said the budget process didn’t meet his expectations for transparency and robust discussion. He also wanted more support for libraries, reading specialists and English-language learners.

“It’s just not strong enough,” Buel said of the budget. “They need to be stronger yet.”

PPS 2015-16 General Fund highlights

  • 4.3 percent more than the 2014-15 budget
  • 79.4 percent, $456.5 million, of the General Fund goes to salaries and benefits of all employees
  • Educational assistants in new full-day kindergarten
  • Counselors in every school
  • Library and media specialists in every school grade 8 and younger
  • Rebuilds Outdoor School to five days

  • Shasta@PortlandTribune.com