By Denise Castañon and Tiffany Hill
In April, Portland Public Schools (PPS) announced that due to decreased enrollment, schools would face cuts to classroom teachers. According to data from PPS, in the 2021-2022 school year the district saw a drop of 3,981 students enrolled compared to the 2019-2020 school year. The Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) and many parents strongly advocated against the cuts. Now district officials say that the budget approved on May 24 will not force teacher layoffs for the coming school year. But the status of future cuts remains uncertain.
“No educator, student or parent will tell you that this year we had enough of anything: enough staff, enough support, enough time,” says Angela Bonilla, the incoming president of PAT. “This reflects a disconnect between the spreadsheets and the reality on the ground. In order for it to be successful, public education needs more investment, not less.”
Some private schools reported their enrollment numbers remained unchanged during the pandemic. “We are grateful that our enrollment numbers have remained steady over the last many years,” says Mo Copeland, Oregon Episcopal School’s head of school. “During the pandemic, we heard from many interested families who thought we were a great option because we required vaccinations and upheld mask mandates.” But some parents, she adds, weren’t keen on having their kids continue to mask up for the school day.
Catlin Gabel’s Director of Enrollment Management Sara Nordhoff says that the westside private school saw full enrollment in the last few years despite the pandemic. “Many families appreciated the school’s commitment to the health and safety of our community during the height of the pandemic,” she says. “This included our decision to require all employees and age-eligible students to be vaccinated, with exemptions for religious and medical reasons.”
Despite the ongoing public-school student enrollment decrease, Portland-area educators agree that inspiring work that engages and motivates students is still happening in and out of the classroom. And that work will hopefully spur teachers, parents and the community to come together, for the sake of students, whether in public or private settings.