Bottom line for our schools? What we need here is more money.

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

I've mostly stayed out of the conversations regarding the PPS contract negotiations. As a brand-new PPS parent (yay for kindergarten!), I'm mostly just trying to get acclimated to the whole school thing. I've also got friends in the administration, at the teachers' union, and in the teaching ranks. I haven't felt plugged in enough to the details to be able to weigh in smartly.

That said, a comment by David Porter struck me as particularly insightful:

Everyone would like smaller class sizes. Hopefully, increased state funding will permit hiring more teachers. But, if compensation costs for teachers increases more than additional funding, there is no way for PPS to hire more teachers and reduce class sizes. Putting class size restrictions or total student workload numbers in the contract makes no sense to me. Asking for more compensation and restrictions on class sizes seems a contradiction to me. What is PPS to do if it does not have the funds to reduce class sizes.

Without passing judgment on the demands by the teachers or the administration, David's basically right. Portland Public Schools doesn't control the overall size of its budget. It can't raise taxes. (Even if voters approve new bonds and levies, Measure 5 and Measure 50 powerfully restrict the effectiveness of new revenue measures.)

And sure, there's surely some nibbling around the edges to be done with cost-effectiveness, reducing overhead, trimming administrative costs.

But it seems to me that if your biggest expense is teachers, and you have a fixed budget, then David is right: You can either hire more teachers, or you can boost salaries for your existing teachers.

It's fifth grade math, after all. Total compensation for teachers equals number of teachers times average pay (and benefits) for teachers. If the total compensation budget is fixed, then if average compensation goes up, the number of teachers goes down. If the number of teachers goes up, then the average compensation goes down.

I wish Portland School District voters could vote to raise taxes on themselves to do both things -- boost pay AND hire more teachers (and thus reduce class sizes.) I'd love to see our teachers be the best paid (and most respected and best supported) teachers in the country, and with class sizes in the teens. And all the art, music, science, PE, libraries, counselors, TAG programs, special-ed programs, immersion and focus programs, and more that our kids deserve and need.

No matter what happens with the negotiations, I hope that administrators, teachers, parents, and students all come together and campaign to fix our broken tax system. Money can't fix all of our problems, but it sure can fix a lot of them.

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