Portland School Board Chair Sarah Lentz presented the 2023 State of the Schools report to the Portland City Council Monday evening, sharing some statistics about the district’s demographics and stories of student successes.
After recognizing her fellow Board members, Superintendent, and other district staff, Lentz began her presentation with a guided meditation — combined with a land acknowledgement to the Wabanaki:
“I invite you all to take a moment to ground here together. Take a deep breath. Take a breath to become fully present. Take a breath to feel your body and push your feet into the floor, into the land that our city and schools are built upon, unceded land of the Wabanaki, the people of dawn.“Sarah Lentz, Chair of the Portland Board of Public Education
Lentz then presented the City Council with some data on Portland public school demographics.
“Our students embody remarkable diversity,” Lentz said. “In the whitest state in the country, our student body speaks over 50 languages, with thirty percent of them actively learning English.”
Fifty-two percent of Portland students are students of color, eighteen percent are supported by special education services, and seven percent are homeless, according to Lentz.
“All of these layers of diversity create a unique and rich environment for our students to learn in,” Lentz told the City Council. “We are so lucky.”
Later in her presentation, Lentz applauded the increase in the number of “Black, Indigenous and staff of color across the district.”
“While we know there is more work to be done in this area, we are proud to say that we are at 16% across the district, which is up from 7% in 2016,” Lentz said. “We know having a staff that represents our student demographics in every area is crucial to the academic and social success of all of our students.”
Lentz said that this year’s Portland Public Schools budget “is looking incredibly grim,” and that early estimates indicate the district is running of a deficit of at least $10 million.
The Board chair attributed the deficit to several causes: increased costs to existing, mandatory expenses, such as special education costs, salary increases and benefits, and debt service, the dwindling amount of federal funds tied to COVID-19 pandemic-era programs, and decreased state funding.
“About 80% of our budget is directly connected to people costs — salaries and benefits,” Lentz said.
“To balance our budget this coming year, there will be cuts to programming and to staff,” she added, though she did not elaborate on which programs or staff would be subject to the cuts.