Declining enrollment threatens funding for Portland schools

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Portland Public Schools could lose almost $1 million, or about $3,000 per student, in Essential Programs and Services funding because of declining enrollment.

While EPS projections haven’t been made yet, Superintendent Xavier Botana said “just as a rule of thumb, I think we should think about the potential for significant loss of funding in EPS as a result of that.”

Enrollment and shifts in student population over the last three years were discussed at the School Board meeting on Dec. 7.

Portland Public Schools logoSchool enrollment peaked in 2010 at more than 7,000 students and has steadily declined since then, with the greatest drop from 2020-2021 when there was a loss of 253 students, or 3.7 percent. 

The decline is acute in elementary schools, particularly the third and fourth grades, which could result in three schools losing sections.

Direct declines in enrollment can likely be attributed to the coronavirus pandemic, with students switching to private or homeschooling. With full-time in-person learning back this school year, the schools gained 46 students.

An additional impact of the pandemic has been a significant loss in students coming from other countries. PPS had 355 students from other countries in the most recent “regular” school year, 2018-2019; the number dropped to 271 the following year, and to 115 in the 2020-2021 school year.

Enrollment discrepancies can also be found when comparing Portland and Deering high schools. The gap in enrollment between the two high schools has increased in recent years, showing as much as a 200-student difference this school year: 704 at Deering, 907 at Portland High.

Botana said in a phone interview that it becomes a challenge for the School Department to ensure that Portland High Schools continues to have what it needs to provide for all the students – without taking resources away from Deering.

The department has used a formula-based staffing method for the elementary schools and is now working to apply it at the high school level in response to the uneven school populations, he said.

School Board Chair Emily Figdor said she believes there should be some “guardrails” on the high school selection process available to students to ensure staff resources are distributed efficiently. 

Figdor in an email said officials haven’t been able to make any changes this year due to the continuing impact of COVID-19, but PPS is laying the groundwork to consider changes for the 2023-2024 school year.

Enrollment data also showed PPS is continuously diversifying. The number of white students in the district has declined, offset by an increase in students of color until 2020.

From 2020 on, the populations of Black and white students have both declined, while Latinx and Asian populations have grown. The English Language Learners population has also increased since 2020.

Figdor said evidence of this diversification further emphasizes the importance of the equity work PPS has done this year and continues to strive for going forward.

Dec. 7 marked the School Board’s first meeting with only six members rather than the standard number of nine. The City Council is expected to discuss options for filling the three vacant School Board seats at its Dec. 20 meeting.

Xavier Botana
Portland Superintendent of Schools Xavier Botana.

Portland school chief to leave in 2024

The Portland Public Schools will need a new superintendent after the 2023-2024 school year.

Superintendent of Schools Xavier Botana said he will leave the post when his latest two-year contract extension expires.

By that time, Botana will have held the job for eight years.

School Board Chair Emily Figdor said Botana’s legacy will be his effort to put Portland schools on a path towards racial equity. 

She said in an email that the board will begin mapping out the hiring process next year, a process that will heavily involve Botana.

Botana announced his decision to the board on Dec. 7.

“The past 5 1/2 years have been the pinnacle of my career, and I look forward to continuing that work,” Botana said. “I’m incredibly proud of the work that we’ve done together as an administration, board, staff, and community.”

He said he hopes that by announcing his departure now he is giving the board enough time to proactively search for a superintendent who will continue the progress made toward equity.

Figdor said the board will “look for someone who can help us the most in becoming an equitable school district, where every child is getting the excellent education they deserve.”

— Evan Edmonds