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My View: After lean years, it's time for PPS to invest, prosper

On March 31, I had the pleasure of presenting to the Portland Public Schools board my seventh budget proposal as superintendent.

The $534 million general fund budget I proposed for the 2014-15 school year represents a significant reinvestment in our schools and is my first proposed budget where we are able to strategically invest without simultaneously cutting programs. This is really exciting news for our students, our staff and our community.

Before I dive into the details of my budget proposal, let me highlight a few of the many reasons I consider these historic and truly hopeful times for Portland Public Schools:

• Despite cutting tens of millions of dollars during the past five years, our graduation rate has gone up by 14 percent in four years, and we continue to narrow the achievement gap for students of color.

• Our racial equity policies continue to transform our culture, change the way we do business and the way we recruit and retain a diverse work force, and help us improve outcomes for all students in our district.

• The $482 million school capital improvement bond, which paid for improvements at six schools last summer, will fund projects at 12 more schools this summer. Meanwhile, planning for the modernization of Franklin and Roosevelt high schools, along with the replacement of Faubion K-8 School, moves forward.

• Just last month, the board ratified a new contract with the Portland Association of Teachers that adds teachers, two additional school days, raises teacher pay and maintains strong

benefits.

• Thanks to Portland voters, an improving economy and strong leadership from Gov. John Kitzhaber and the state Legislature, we have increased revenue from the state school fund and the local option levy.

I was encouraged to present a budget that has been informed and developed through the course of the board’s work and priorities this year, and through the work by PPS staff in collaboration with our partners and stakeholders.

The budget proposal adds more than 180 positions in schools, including 70 in K-8 schools, 50 in high schools and 30 in special education. These additions will reduce staffing ratios and teacher workloads across the district, something that is important to all of us.

The budget proposal adds capacity to recruit and support new teachers. It sustains our strategy of targeting supports for our historically underserved populations, sustains commitments to add 30 positions to address staffing

issues in the fall, sustains 68 half-time classified positions that were added this year in all elementary schools and increases funding for athletics.

We will soon be piloting nonprofit partnerships in five schools to provide wraparound support for students who need an extra boost to read at the vital third-grade benchmark. We also know that we must start when children are even younger to improve early literacy, and this budget includes a significant proposal to expand our early learning program.

I’m also excited that this proposal grows our Dual Language Immersion programs and builds on successful partnerships like the one at Jefferson Middle College that is demonstrating improved outcomes for students. You can read more details about my budget proposal on the PPS web page, www.pps.k12.or.us/departments/budget/index.htm.

The future is bright, and we have much to be thankful for at PPS. However, I understand this is still not an adequate budget. For example, we do not have enough PE, art and music teachers, librarians or full-time counselors in our elementary schools. While we have built back the ability for high school students to forecast for the courses they want and need, we need to further our supports for our college and career readiness programs.

At every budget listening session, I heard about how much more we need to deliver on the promise that all of our students, regardless of race or family income, meet or exceed academic standards and are prepared to make productive life decisions. In the coming years, we must continue to invest in programs and strategies that help us make good on that promise.

I remain grateful to have had the opportunity to lead this great school district for the past seven years. As I look forward to my eighth year, I am more thankful than ever to serve a community that places such a high priority on our schools and our children.

Carole Smith is superintendent of Portland Public Schools.