Oregon Schools Cut Staff Despite Increased Budgets

Generally, when budgets are increased for specific programs, you’d expect the efficiency of these programs to increase as well.

“Money talks,” that is what’s said by those who favor increased spending on education, healthcare, and welfare. When funding is raised it is expected to go to hiring more hands and buying more supplies, as well as other valuable resources to help increase morale, production, reach, and quality of service.

However, in the state of Oregon, when your education budget is increased by $400 million for the year, it means that you cut staff.

This $400 million budget increase isn’t to be outdone by the 2013 $6.55 billion spending package approved for K-12 education, hiking it up from the 2011 legislative assembly approved funding of $5.7 billion.

Even after all that, today, in 2017, with Oregon lawmakers reluctantly passing an $8.2 billion budget, Oregon still cuts staff; according to the lawmakers promises (back in January), the budget passed for this year was supposed to preserve current school programs and staffing.

Oregon’s largest district, Portland Public Schools, despite receiving $29 million from the school fund will lose 55 teachers in the fall of 2018. This is due to rising salary, pension expenses, and retirement costs surging by 18 million.

The Salem-Keizer School District, the state’s second-largest, saw an increase in budget by $31 million. Despite this increase, 67 teacher positions got cut due to pension costs skyrocketing by $10 million. Cutting 67 teacher positions saved the school district $6.8 million.

This is a common trend around the state.

Kelsy Dunlap, a 35 year old physics teacher entering her sixth year teaching at Salem’s McKay High School, said teachers in her district have come to expect budget cuts, despite the budget being increased by $2.5 billion since 2011 and Salem specifically receiving $31 million.

“That’s Oregon. That’s what we do here,” she said. “It’s demoralizing.”

Dunlap is expecting her freshman physics class to have 40 students, making it harder to learn names, grade assignments, and give each student the time they deserve.

The school budget in Beaverton increased by $21 million; following the trend of other Oregon school districts. The pension costs also rose by $14 million.

On top of this, the district is also opening a new high school and a refurbished elementary school, forcing the school to make cuts. The district leaders decided to trim library staff, reduce professional development programs for teachers and cut spending on classroom supplies.

According to district officials and specialists at the Oregon Department of Education, matters are expected to get worse for the state’s nearly 200 districts by 2019, as bills for pensions and employee health plans swell.

“I don’t think the pain is done,” said Michael Wiltfong, the department’s head of school finance. “School districts and the state as a whole are anticipating more bad news.”

School administrators are frustrated by their inability to decide at the local level how employee pensions are structured or how much pension payments increase. This is controlled by the courts, Legislature, and the board of the Public Employees Retirement System.

“People say, ‘you’re getting a 10 percent increase. You ought to be able to survive on that,'” said Wolfe, the Salem official. “I mean, yeah, if my costs weren’t increasing more than that, sure. We get told what the PERS rate is. I have no influence over that.”

Hanna Vaandering, President of the Oregon Education Association, the state teachers’ union, said in a statement that the school budget passed Tuesday is “extremely disappointing.” Lawmakers had the opportunity to pass tax increases to boost education funding, Vaandering said, but “a small number of legislators, alongside the business community, were able block those efforts.”

Many pushed for lawmakers to pass new taxes on corporations to pay for the rising pension rates.

The Corporate income tax rate in Oregon, for 2013, ranges from 6.6% to 7.6%. This is on top of the 15% to 35% federal corporate tax rate. To put this in perspective, to operate a business in Oregon, you will pay anywhere from 21 to 43 cents on every dollar you make – or $21 to $43 on every $100 you make.

To put Oregon’s budget in perspective, in 2014 Oregon spent $9,945 per student. Meaning, it takes 5-7 students to pay a teacher with a salary of 50-60k a year. A teacher in Oregon, on average, can expect to make $38,369 to $62,940 a year.

* Logan Anderson is an Oregonian political activist, political analyst, and YouTube content creator that has a passion in freedom and economics.

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