Ask Dr. Phillips!

By Sid Leader of Portland, Oregon. Sid is currently a middle school teacher in Portland, and was previously a Supervising Producer for CNN, working in Atlanta, New York and overseas. Previously, Sid contributed "Put up or shut up, Mr. Jordan"

Vicki PhillipsOn Friday, May 6, Dr. Vicki Phillips, the new superintendent of Portland Public Schools, is scheduled to speak to all of her employees, and I do mean all.

I don't believe Dr. Phillips will take questions, but here's one I've been thinking about, oh, since the last Bush was busy flushing the country down the toilet:

"For 15 years Salem has said no, no, no to good schools in Portland, and instead of fighting, PPS has cowered in a corner, quietly weeping, sticking out its battered old Fedora in search of crumbs dropped from the sweaty palms of political fat cats, porky business lobbyists and heavy-on-the-hair-gel lawyers in cheap suits. What will you, Dr. Phillips, do to FIGHT, actually fight, for stable funding for our schools, to fight for our kids, to get them back to the front of the line, where they belong?"

So, do you have a question for Dr. Vicki? Who knows, she may actually read it.

  • justin (unverified)

    At least you're not blaming Phillips for the lack of funding? I tend to think the cuts are a necessary evil of her job, and someone had to do it.

    But you're wrong to blame Salem and their lobbyists. In 2003, Salem passed a tax increase which would have increased school funding. However, the citizens of Oregon turned the bill into an initiative, and then defeated that initiative.

    The real problem isn't politicians. The real problem is the citizens of Oregon which refuse to pay for more schools.

    Don't blame Vicki. Don't blame Salem. Blame your neighbor.

  • (Show?)

    My question for Vicki would be:

    Why does Portland School District have significantly higher per-student spending than other metro area school districts, and what are your plans to reduce the district's cost structure so that it can survive without program cuts on what we can expect to be the 3% or so annual increase in per-student revenues from all sources?

    I have posted below PPS' adopted budget for 2004-05. Sorry the formatting gets ruined when I copy it from the ODE web site and paste it in.

    But, the top number - $577 million - is the district's all funds budget. That number, of course, includes several line items that should not be counted if we are trying to honestly arrive at the answer to the question "what does the school district spend per student."

    To get an accurate answer, we must do the following: 1) Back out any ending fund balances, because this $$ is not spent. 2) Back out any inter-fund transfers, because this $$ is double counted. 3) back out any capital expenditures, because they are paid out of debt service, and to count both cap exp and debt service would double count.

    This results in an actual all funds spending for PPS this year of $522,604,501. Divid that by the # of students (ADMr of 44,301.8) and we get PPS all funds spending per student of $11,796.46

    Doing the same calculation for other metro area school districts, we get the following:

    District Per student $$ % diff Reynolds spends $9,918.95 per studnet, 16% Lower than PPS Gresham spends $9,190.03 per student, 22% lower than PPS Hillsboro spends $8,899.40 per student, 25% lower than PPS Beaverton spends $10,093.37 per student, 14% lower than PPS N. Clackamas spends $9,549.30 per student, 19% lower than PPS.

    Why is Portland so much more expensive? Contrary to popular belief, it is NOT demographics (% ESL, Special Ed, low income).

    Here are the comparative demographics for these districts:

    PPS: 11.7% ESL, 11% special ed, 17.2% students in poverty Beaverton: 11.6% ESL, 11% special ed, 10.1% students in poverty Hillsboro: 16.2% ESL, 11% special ed, 10.5% students in poverty Reynolds: 23% ESL, 11% special ed, 21.3% students in poverty Gresham: 8.9% ESL, 11% special ed, 11% students in poverty N. Clackamas: 10.4% ESL, 11% special ed, 10.4% students in poverty

    So, my question for Dr. Phillips (and for anyone who thinks that PPS' problems are due to lack of funding) is this:

    How are you going to reduce your cost structure?

    (All of this data is for the 2004-05 school year, and is available to anyone right off the ODE web site.)

    PPS 04/05 budget below:

    Portland Sch Dist 1j 577,609,062 Fund 100 - General Fund 1000 - Instruction 1111 - Primary (K-3) 49,201,741 1112 - Intermediate Programs 26,056,954 1121 - Middle/Junior High Programs 36,020,577 1131 - High School Programs 43,847,488 1132 - High School Extra-curricular 3,524,700 1140 - Pre-kindergarten Programs 819,013 1210 - Programs for the Talented and Gifted 600,460 1220 - Restrictive programs for students with disabilities 23,628,671 1250 - Less restrictive programs for students with disabilities 11,395,083 1260 - Early Intervention 83,475 1280 - Alternative Education 15,240,764 1291 - English Second Language Programs 12,282,303 1292 - Teen Parent Programs 448,572 1299 - Other Programs 100,000 Major Function Total: 223,249,801

    2000 - Support Services 2110 - Attendance and Social Work Services 6,344,050 2120 - Guidance Services 6,839,661 2130 - Health Services 8,611 2140 - Psychological Services 4,995,869 2150 - Speech Pathology and Audiology Services 5,131,888 2160 - Other Student Treatment Services 2,578,858 2190 - Service Direction: Student Support Services 6,460,076 2210 - Improvement of Instruction Services 2,406,900 2220 - Educational Media Services 6,070,653 2240 - Instructional Staff Development 3,193,954 2310 - Board of Education Services 311,203 2320 - Executive Administration Services 3,233,040 2410 - Office of the Principal Services 26,313,443 2490 - Other Support Services-School Administration 85,260 2510 - Direction of Business Support Services 455,635 2520 - Fiscal Services 3,735,197 2540 - Operation and Maintenance of Plant Services 30,003,259 2550 - Student Transportation Services 16,684,331 2570 - Internal Services 3,022,022 2620 - Planning; Research; Development; Evaluation Services; Grant 2,098,027 2630 - Information Services 1,177,356 2640 - Staff Services 3,213,664 2660 - Technology Services 7,982,008 2670 - Records Management Services 228,513 Major Function Total: 142,573,478

    5000 - Other Uses 5100 - Debt Service 1,010,384 5200 - Transfers of Funds 18,277,746 Major Function Total: 19,288,130

    6000 - Contingencies 6000 - Contingencies 11,580,883 Major Function Total: 11,580,883

    Fund Total: 396,692,292 Fund 200 - Special Revenue Funds 1000 - Instruction 1111 - Primary (K-3) 3,856,197 1112 - Intermediate Programs 380,339 1113 - Elementary Extra-curricular 153,953 1121 - Middle/Junior High Programs 162,033 1122 - Middle/Junior High School Extracurricular 128,487 1131 - High School Programs 1,481,182 1132 - High School Extra-curricular 8,367,146 1140 - Pre-kindergarten Programs 3,835,695 1220 - Restrictive programs for students with disabilities 2,807,174 1250 - Less restrictive programs for students with disabilities 6,075,915 1260 - Early Intervention 17,858 1272 - Title I 15,954,637 1280 - Alternative Education 5,877,486 1291 - English Second Language Programs 449,039 1292 - Teen Parent Programs 112,149 1293 - Migrant Education 770,630 1299 - Other Programs 513,795 1400 - Summer School Programs 557,042 Major Function Total: 51,500,757

    2000 - Support Services 2110 - Attendance and Social Work Services 2,019,517 2120 - Guidance Services 343,242 2130 - Health Services 108,599 2140 - Psychological Services 312,779 2150 - Speech Pathology and Audiology Services 723,399 2160 - Other Student Treatment Services 1,056,517 2190 - Service Direction: Student Support Services 3,260,220 2210 - Improvement of Instruction Services 5,568,679 2220 - Educational Media Services 204,022 2240 - Instructional Staff Development 7,499,308 2320 - Executive Administration Services 10,172 2410 - Office of the Principal Services 2,299,380 2520 - Fiscal Services 73,944 2540 - Operation and Maintenance of Plant Services 329,786 2620 - Planning; Research; Development; Evaluation Services; Grant 352,698 2640 - Staff Services 275,692 2660 - Technology Services 377,408 Major Function Total: 24,815,362

    3000 - Enterprise and Community Services 3100 - Food Services 15,703,188 3300 - Community Services 1,353,218 Major Function Total: 17,056,406

    7000 - Unappropriated Ending Fund Balance 7000 - Unappropriated Ending Fund Balance 26,088,166 Major Function Total: 26,088,166

    Fund Total: 119,460,691 Fund 300 - Debt Service Funds 5000 - Other Uses 5100 - Debt Service 45,151,690 Major Function Total: 45,151,690

    Fund Total: 45,151,690 Fund 400 - Capital Projects Funds 2000 - Support Services 2220 - Educational Media Services 22,858 2520 - Fiscal Services 26,000 2660 - Technology Services 781,418 Major Function Total: 830,276

    4000 - Facilities Acquisition and Construction 4150 - Building Acquisition; Construction; and Improvement Services 8,019,090 Major Function Total: 8,019,090

    7000 - Unappropriated Ending Fund Balance 7000 - Unappropriated Ending Fund Balance 2,308,970 Major Function Total: 2,308,970

    Fund Total: 11,158,336 Fund 600 - Internal Service Funds 2000 - Support Services 2520 - Fiscal Services 4,835,464 Major Function Total: 4,835,464

    7000 - Unappropriated Ending Fund Balance 7000 - Unappropriated Ending Fund Balance 310,589 Major Function Total: 310,589 Fund Total: 5,146,053

  • Sid Leader (unverified)

    I believe one reason PPS spends more than the suburbs is because most of our schools were built in the 1920's, 30's and 40's. PPS did not maintain these buildings during the 1990 budget cuts because it used the money in the classroom.

    Think Whitaker. Think poison. Think expensive. I was there, Rob. Every day. Were you?

    Everything costs more in the city than in the suburbs when it comes to business costs. That is a time-tested truth.

    Little ol' Lane Middle School is fighting off a meth EPIDEMIC in their community and they have one rookie counselor advising several hundred children, while more than HALF of all Oregon business owners send a $10 income tax check to Salem before heading to Hawaii. My wife runs an extremely successful small business ($5,000,000 gross last year) and she says Oregon business taxes, overall, are the lowest she has ever paid.

  • panchopdx (unverified)


    It looks like Sid needs you to include rates of meth use per district in your breakdown of cost per student.

    Once you do that, I'm sure he'd like you to factor in mold cleaning costs per district.

    And water testing costs per district.

    And school vandalism rates per district.

    And the impact of students fleeing to private, home or charter schools per district.

    And after that, don't forget disparities in soda/concession revenues per district.

    And then....

    Oh why bother?

    Face it Rob, no amount of evidence will persuade the Sids' of this world that PPS's problem is something other than a lack of revenue.

  • (Show?)

    My question: You don't actually ask people to call you "Doctor," do you? How pretentious. Go with "Super Vicki"!

  • JDub (unverified)

    Given that Portland Schools are losing students by the busload to private and suburban schools and that this winter's decision to close highly performing neighborhood schools in the hope of staunching the flow of red ink created even more ill will, what is your strategy for restoring public confidence in and support for Portland Public Schools (I mean other than continuing to exhibit leadership)?

  • ron ledbury (unverified)

    It seems that not many people have questions, so I will offer couple.

    When would be a convenient time for me to inspect the records of the Executive Sessions of PPS from August, September and October of 2004?

    Will it take two months, after I make my request, for me to get a list of the teachers that are not likely to be working for PPS next school year?

    How many teaching positions will be saved by refusing to pay "employer contributions" as demanded by the PERB to cover the payment obligations to PERS beneficiaries not yet due for 5, 10, 15 and 20 years out into the distant future? How will this refusal impact class sizes?

    Have you yet obtained an update from counsel on the uncompellability of the PERB demand for advanced funding following the most recent ruling of the Oregon Supreme Court regarding PERS obligations? While I believe it to be clearly uncompellable, your counsel could hardly argue that there is affirmatively not even a colorable claim that the PERB demands are not compellable.

  • Sarah Carlin Ames (unverified)

    I'm a little late to the party, but reading over Rob Kremer's math exercise last night, I noted at least one glaring error. He said that Portland Public Schools had 17.2 percent of kids living in poverty in 2003-04. The figure was actually 43 percent eligible for free/reduced price meals.

    I don't have time to check all his figures, or to double-check his math, but I hope the other numbers he cites were more reliable than that one.

    There is a lot more information on the Portland Public Schools budget for next year at, under the "Budget 2005-07" header.

    Sarah Carlin Ames, Portland Public Schools

guest column

connect with blueoregon