Portland Public Schools has just ended an incredibly challenging school year. On top of the everyday demands of running our schools, we had to cope with COVID surges and a labor shortage that stretched our capacity to run school buses and staff classrooms. Yet I am ending this year with a sense of gratitude – for a variety of reasons.

Xavier Botana is the superintendent of Portland Public Schools. He can be reached at [email protected]

First, I’m deeply grateful to Portland voters for their decisive approval of our $133.1 million budget for the 2022-2023 school year, by a margin of 3 to 1. I’m so proud to live and work in a community that consistently shows it values public education.

I also am grateful to our staff and our Board of Public Education for working very hard over the past six months to bring forward this responsible fiscal year 2023 budget, which balances the needs of our district and the economic realities we’re all facing. I’m very thankful as well to city councilors and our mayor for supporting this budget. The approved budget retains current programs and services and covers increased costs for salaries, benefits and debt service. Most importantly, it ensures that our district maintains the equity investments we have made to support our students experiencing opportunity gaps.

I’m grateful, too, for the broad field of candidates who ran for three vacant board seats June 14, because that shows community commitment to being engaged in public education. Congratulations and welcome to Sarah Lentz, Ben Grant and Sarah Brydon!

I also feel incredibly grateful to our amazing Portland Public Schools people for persevering through all the challenges we faced this year. No matter what came our way, their dedication to helping our students succeed never wavered. This school year has demonstrated the value of all of us working together and supporting one another.

We need to continue to do that in order to create a consistently welcoming, safe and responsive school experience for all our students. Our middle school students recently voiced complaints about disparate treatment of students of color and students who are LGBTQ+. These are problems that exist system-wide, and our data backs that up.

At a June 7 board workshop, we discussed steps we will be taking immediately, over the summer and into the next school year to support students and work with staff to ensure a more inclusive environment in our schools. I am confident that our Portland Public Schools people are determined and committed to meeting this challenge head-on. As an administration, we pledge to help them to develop their capacity to do so.

I also am grateful to be part of a community that came together June 11 for Portland’s March for Our Lives rally to advocate for gun reform. We called for change so students, teachers and other Americans don’t become the victims of the gun violence that happens nationwide every day. In my remarks at the rally, I echoed the board’s 2018 resolution against gun violence following the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida. That resolution called upon Congress and state legislatures to prioritize the protection of students and school employees by passing legislation more effectively regulating access to firearms through such measures as closing loopholes in background checks, funding public health research on firearms-related issues and advancing mental health supports.

I am thankful Portland has a board that is proactive on behalf of our students and staff. It is now up to all of us to make it clear to our elected leaders that gun violence must end now. As the March for Our Lives participants said: “Enough is enough!”

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