Education Funding

Portland Plan Would Shorten Academic Year

By John Gehring — April 17, 2002 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

While the school year in Oregon is already the shortest of any state’s, the Portland public schools could cut more than a week from their academic calendar under a controversial cost-saving measure approved by the district’s school board.

Like many other districts in Oregon, Portland is reeling from a state budget crisis that has forced lawmakers to hold two special sessions in an attempt to plug an almost $1 billion funding gap for the coming fiscal year. The legislature has proposed a total of about $312 million in overall education cuts, including state aid for literacy and mathematics programs for low-performing elementary school students.

The Portland school board on March 18 approved a budget offered by the 57,000-student district’s interim superintendent. Among other measures, the spending plan would reduce the 2002-2003 school year by eight or nine days from the current schedule, freeze teachers’ salaries, and increase class sizes.

The unanimous vote in the state’s largest district came as hundreds of parents and educators crowded into the district’s headquarters. Sharp debate is expected with the teachers’ union, which must approve the plan.

Interim Superintendent Jim Scherzinger portrayed the plan as a one-year rollback that he said would help save the district $12.8 million in the next fiscal year budget, now set at $360 million. Mr. Scherzinger said he would recommend closing for fewer days if the legislature reduced its projected state education cuts.

Shortening the calender, he acknowledged, would likely put Portland schools out of compliance with state-mandated minimum requirements for instructional hours. The state department of education sets a minimum number of hours students must be in school for various grades; currently, Oregon students attend school an average of 171 days a year—a total already less than the roughly 180 days that most students around the country spend in school.

Under Oregon law, a district out of compliance for more than a year loses state funding.

Mr. Scherzinger said he has been frustrated with news reports focusing on the reduced number of school days and believes state policymakers must recognize that higher academic standards demand a fiscal commitment that has not been met.

“The conversation we’re having in this state does not recognize the higher goals we have placed on our system,” Mr. Scherzinger said.

Mr. Scherzinger said Oregon has dropped from having some of the highest taxes in the country a decade ago to now having some of the lowest. “There is simply inadequate funding,” he contended.

Other districts around the state may also consider cutting back school days in an effort to save money, according to the state education department. Waivers of the requirement on meeting minimum instructional hours need the approval of the state board of education.

“Given the current situation, the state board will be looking closely at this,” said Barbara Wolfe, a spokeswoman for the department.

John Hodge Jones, the former chairman of the National Education Commission on Time and Learning, a congressional advisory panel that issued a 1994 report arguing for a longer school day and year, said cutting class time for students would be misguided.

“It’s a bad precedent,” said Mr. Jones, a former district superintendent in Tennessee. The commission that Mr. Jones headed found that while the average school day lasted about six hours, most high school students spent only about three hours in academic classes.

Oregon lawmakers have been wading through a difficult budget process. A second special legislative session ended in early March with the Republican-controlled House and Senate supporting the use of education trust funds to make up for a shortfall in state revenue. (“Oregon to Vote on Ed. Trust Fund; Kitzhaber Vows to Fight GOP Plan,” March 13, 2002.)

Vote Ahead

Gov. John A. Kitzhaber, a Democrat, has already signaled that a third special session will probably take place in June.

Included in the Republican plan to balance the budget is a ballot measure, scheduled to go before voters next month, that would convert an education endowment fund into a fund that would help to stabilize schools financially in emergency situations.

Gov. Kitzhaber is fighting the ballot measure because he believes it does not address the long-term fiscal needs of the state. The Oregon School Boards Association and the Oregon Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, also oppose the measure.

“It doesn’t fix the problem; it just puts a Band-Aid on what we call a hemorrhage,” said John Marshall, the director of legislative services for the school boards’ association. “Our call has been to get to the real nuts and bolts of the issue, which is adequate funding.”

But the chairwoman of the Portland school board, Debbie Menashe, said she supports the ballot measure because if it doesn’t pass, the district will be forced to slash more from an already bare-bones budget. While she agrees long-term solutions must be considered, she said the current problems call for immediate action.

“These are horribly painful choices,” Ms. Menashe said. “There are no good choices. From my perspective, we are already in a funding crisis. You don’t cut eight or nine days out of your school year if you’re not already in a crisis.”

Richard Garrett, the president of the 3,500-member Portland Association of Teachers, said that with relations already strained between the district and his union, collective bargaining over next year’s contract will not be easy. “Our relationship is bad, and the issues are tough,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the April 17, 2002 edition of Education Week as Portland Plan Would Shorten Academic Year

Events

Special Education Webinar Reading, Dyslexia, and Equity: Best Practices for Addressing a Threefold Challenge
Learn about proven strategies for instruction and intervention that support students with dyslexia.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Families & the Community Webinar
How Whole-Child Student Data Can Strengthen Family Connections
Learn how district leaders can use these actionable strategies to increase family engagement in their student’s education and boost their academic achievement.
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
College & Workforce Readiness Webinar
The School to Workforce Gap: How Are Schools Setting Students Up For Life & Lifestyle Success?
Hear from education and business leaders on how schools are preparing students for their leap into the workforce.
Content provided by Find Your Grind

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Funding Schools Need Billions More to Make Up for Lost Learning Time, Researchers Argue
The projected price tag far exceeds ESSER aid already provided to help students recover from the pandemic.
5 min read
A man standing on the edge of a one dollar bill that is folded downward to look like a funding cliff.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Education Funding EPA Doubles Aid for Electric, Natural Gas-Powered School Buses, Citing High Demand
The $965 million in funding helps schools replace existing diesel buses with zero- and low-emissions alternatives.
2 min read
A row of flat-front yellow school buses with green bumpers are parked in front of white electric charging units.
Stockton Unified School District's new electric bus fleet sits parked in front of charging stations.
Business Wire via AP
Education Funding Districts Steer Federal Teacher-Quality Funding Into Recruitment, Retention
Efforts to recruit teachers and create "grow your own" programs are in; class-size reduction and teacher evaluation are out.
5 min read
Blurred view of the back of students in a classroom with their hands raised answering to a female teacher
E+/Getty
Education Funding In Their Own Words This Superintendent's Tiny, Rural District Got No COVID Aid. Here's Why That Hurts
The aid formula left Long Lake, N.Y., out of the mix. The superintendent worries that could happen for other kinds of aid in the future.
3 min read
Long Lake Superintendent Noelle Short in front of Long Lake Central School in Long Lake, N.Y., on Sept. 1, 2022.
Noelle Short is the superintendent of a single-school district in upstate New York with fewer than 100 students.
Heather Ainsworth for Education Week