Portland schools move to add dozens of positions this school year

PORTLAND, Ore. - It looks as though Portland schools will add dozens of positions this year.

The school board affirmed a plan put forth Monday night by Superintendent Carole Smith to add the positions in an effort to reduce class sizes and reduce teachers' workloads.

"We're very aware people are concerned about class sizes," said school district spokeswoman Christine Miles.

The board will actually vote on the budget amendment later this year, but Smith asked for informal approval so she can move forward on providing schools with the new staff members as soon as possible. The board signed off, approving immediate implementation.

Miles said the hires could happen quickly. The district will be able to draw from its pool of substitutes, many of whom are waiting for full-time work.

"We hope to get that decision very soon, because we were happily surprised by this," Miles said. "Now we just have to sit down and go through each school and determine what the needs are."

The district said money for the hires is available because updated budget figures show more reserves than were expected, and because it expects more money from the state next school year.

The proposal would add $6.5 million to the budget, providing the equivalent of up to 30 full-time teaching positions, as well as the equivalent of 34 full-time classified support staff to reduce class sizes in elementary and middle schools.

Those position will be divvied up based on new enrollment numbers, which show an 11 percent increase in the student population. There will be no chance for public debate on which schools get the new staff members.

"As our enrollment rises again and our budget picture improves after years of cuts, we want to bring class sizes down for our students this year and bring more support to our classroom teachers," Smith said. "The additional funds state leaders have allocated to K-12 schools gives us confidence we can sustain these positions next year."

Available money is up about $16 million, the district said. Specifically, it said the money is coming from utility savings, reduced PERS costs, higher-than-expected revenue, cuts in spending and an increase in federal technology reimbursements.

The district said it will also be able to increase its reserves.