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Thursday, February 9, 2006

Breaking news: School board drops tax plan

While Portland Mayor Tom Potter ponders his menu choices in Taiwan, his school tax plan has officially come unglued. KGW is reporting that the Portland school district is giving up on the tax, and planning to take the $57 million hit to its budget and hope for better times in the future. You'll have to register, but the story is here.

Comments (36)

That's incredible news. I'm very glad to know that the citizens have been heard and respected. They knew that giving Portland the authority to tax income was too dangerous.

Thanks, Vicki and Tom, for hearing us. Now, if I can bend your ear about this Mall revitalization....

This saga ain't over. Potter's in Taiwan but says he wants an "education summit" to raise money for schools when he gets back. Sounds ominous to me.

Supt. Phillips has acknowledged that area voters are fed up, but is this just a "head fake" to give her cover to latch onto a Potter tax plan that his summit dreams up?

Something about city revenues being diverted to schools on a temporary basis? If the city has the dough, whey did they propose the tax in the first place?

I'm confused, and I've seen enough Dracula movies to know that the guy ain't really dead until you see the dust under his cloak.

As an exercise,I recommend that the Portland School District research the best K-12 education systems in the world that achive their results on one-half or less of the per-student Portland schools budget. Portland may find some useful lessons there.

Why not just contact Chuck Arthur and Rob Kremer and let them show the district how to do what Arthur Academy does with half the money.

That would be a demonstration that the PPS wants positive change.

Realistically, the federal mandates (for disabled pupils and the like) make it more or less certain that an urban district like Portland's will never be able to afford to emulate a "good" district or a charter or private school. My suggestion: let's eliminate school buses altogether. Let the kids use public transit, and pay for it, and let the public system serve that need.

I'm disappointed that they're giving up without a fight. You can talk all you want about reform, but where it's really heading is just more of the long decline.

Yep, Bogman Jack never met a tax he didn't like.... heh heh

Allan L makes a very good point. In many European countries they laught at the idea of the fabled Orange Buses that they see moving American kids to and from schools.

If you are around any school at morning or afternoon to/from times you will see a load of Tri met buses half full and then the Orange buses jockeying for parking/passing space.

Get the kids on the TRI met buses and dump the Orange ones.

Actually Arthur's methods and cost structure would help any PPS school.
Other districts with PPS troubles have already done so and now have transition by closing six schools at a time and opening many charter schools. The same teachers are now happily teaching in stable schools with nearly the same compensation.
A big improvement really.

Subject: [Key-communicators-list] Portland School leaders comment on funding options
Date: 2/9/2006 6:49:41 P.M. Pacific Standard Time

February 9, 2006

A Statement on School Funding from the Portland School Board Co-Chairs
and Superintendent

As leaders of the Portland Public Schools, we have looked for the broadest possible funding solution to help students: fighting for funding in Salem at the Legislature, joining with other city and suburban school districts to look at a possible regional solution, and recently working with parent advocates, school, business and community leaders and elected officials at the city and county.

In every conversation, we have heard strong support for our schools, and for education as a priority in this community. But we have also
heard a strong undercurrent that this may not be the time to put a funding solution, a tax, forward to voters.

There is uncertainty about this economic recovery, and when it will actually make a real difference for Portlanders. Families and
individuals are making tough choices in their own personal finances, as they cope with greater monthly costs for health care, housing, utilities and gas.

It is also abundantly clear that we have not shared often enough the changes that are underway in Portland Public Schools to deliver both more effective education and a more accountable and efficient administration. We've been so busy rolling up our sleeves and getting the work done that we haven't had a chance to share it with our
community. We need more time to do that.

Against that backdrop, this may not be the time to ask voters to approve a tax measure, even one that simply replaces money that local taxpayers are already paying.

In the last month, our conversations have focused on two possible options for our schools: either a city-wide local income tax or a local option property tax for the May ballot. At this point, we feel we must recognize and discuss a third option: Not asking voters to approve any tax this May.

We do not contemplate this option lightly. As you all know, all of the school districts in Multnomah County face significant reductions in
their budgets next year, as the three-year local income tax expires. Portland Public Schools faces a $57 million shortfall, and no matter how much support our community partners share with us, and how we exhaust our limited budget reserves, we will be making some significant budget cuts.

But we take heart from the broad coalition that has been meeting with us over the last months, and from their dedication to our students.
First and foremost, the incredible parents and students, and our dedicated teachers and school staff, businesses and community leaders,
our incredible advocacy organizations supporting our schools. And thanks also to our elected officials, especially the City Council and Mayor Tom Potter for his strong leadership and focus on our kids.

Each of the parties comes to the table from different perspectives, but what unites us is our commitment to children and to our city's future.
We will call on all of our community partners, and all of you, to work together with us as we explore all our options and do the best we can
for our kids.

David Wynde, Board Co-Chair and PPS parent

Bobbie Regan, Board Co-Chair and PPS parent

Vicki Phillips, PPS Superintendent

Key-communicators-list mailing list

Jack - My apologies, on the lengthy post. I was given your site as a posting option on this breaking topic, and I failed to read your posting rules, which this post obviously violated. Again, my apologies. -Tony Larson, Six Year Portland Public Schools Citizen Budget Review Committee Chair


I don't speak for Jack, but posts like that are welcome news to me. I appreciate seeing things like this. I also appreciate that at least the PPS Board listens to the citizens. Thank you.

It sounds like they'll try a property tax levy in November. That won't do a thing for the upcoming school year. It sounds as though they'll "spend down reserves" for the year and hope for the best.

All the talk about a "summit" and "Salem" is totally depressing. Get real, people. Nothing is going to come from either of those.

Allan L makes a very good point. In many European countries they laught at the idea of the fabled Orange Buses that they see moving American kids to and from schools.

Er...that might be because European transportation systems are light years ahead of where we are. The reason they don't need two different systems in Europe is because their mass transit would render a school bus system duplicative. We, in all our wisdom, however, insist on keeping city services like buses on a tight budget, which means that they cannot drive the routes that school buses travel. Integrate kids into that system, and the budget for Tri-Met would rise, thereby wiping out any cost savings by getting rid of the orange buses.

Couldn't this be solved by building Light Rail to the schools? Earl shouldn't have too much trouble find us the federal dollars for this since he has seniority in the U.S. House. It's about time we dusted Europe on this.

Maybe Oregonians are waking up to the fact that they are paying plenty of taxes.

If you add Oregon's property tax to Oregon State Income Tax, our local tax burden exceeds California's and is nearly twice Washington's.

For example, at a $75,000 income (2005 tax rates), the Tax Foundation estimates a resident of Portlande would spend 12.4% of their income on taxes. In Los Angeles, the comparable number is 10%. In Seattle, its just 6.5% (which is likely identical to Vancouver).

Then you add your Federal Income tax on top, plus SSI withholding and health insurance premiums. It doesn't leave a whole lot left to spend.

Cut and paste the below link:

If anticipated future expenses for pensions can serve as justification for the issuance of bonds to throw at Wall Street then the same reasoning also applies for future school expenses. If the wisdom of such investment is OK by the City Auditor, and the entire city council, then that wisdom would apply equally to the context of funding schools. (Speculative gains on equities are so dreamy.) Now, if only the future expenses could be characterized as some sort of a settlement for some sort of liability against government then the lawyers will have all the justification they need to issue bonds that match education expenses for the next twenty years. This way the bondholders can get a priority position on the future budgets, including the cost of the bond coupons. And, because the investments are such a sure thing (sure) taxes won't even be needed, as it will come from the speculative game of selling to a greater idiot. It is like Bush's plan for Social Security reform.

Tom and Randy, Don't treat schools worse than the fireman and police pensions. Let's alter the city charter to license the bonding of all future expenses today, as is allowed by the state law and the authority to issue revenue bonds for anything . . . or everything. Go talk to the actuary and the bond counsel for the most recent PERS bond issuance, and let them tell you to dream big, it is OK, and lawful too. I'd rather see the DA put some folks in jail, but hey let's at least share the "speculative" gains equally if that is the modern means for accounting in accordance with GASB.

Money's table doesn't accurately reflect the tax burden of the average taxpayer in Portland. The Median household income in Portland is more like $41,000 (US Census Bureau) vs. $75,000, which was the basis of comparison in the Money Magazine survey. Also the value of the home implied by a $4,800 property tax bill is in the neighborhood of $284,000 (using a $17 tax rate - a guesstimate)assessed valuation, which would be roughly a $394,000 RMV home. So for that particular demographic the Money comparison table is relevant. Most Portlanders are a lot poorer than that, and paying less taxes on both a real and % basis than the figure shown in the Money Magazine table.

Correction to my last post: The property tax figure in the Money table was $4,145 - which is, by my estimate about a $340,000 RMV home.

"Integrate kids into that system, and the budget for Tri-Met would rise, thereby wiping out any cost savings by getting rid of the orange buses."

Easy to say. But is it right? More density in the transit system would benefit more than just school children, and everyone would pay a fare, including the kids. Moreover, some of the kids would actually WALK a bit, offsetting in part the loss of their PE programs. And since schools and public transit are different buckets of money, all of the gross benefits of eliminating school buses would go to the schools. Bottom line: less busing is more palatable than less schooling.

Frank Ray:

Looking at it from another perspective: who has the greater incentive to relocate their business to Vancouver, somebody making $75k/year (or more) or somebody making $41k/year (or less)? 4.65% in tax savings is nearly $3,500/year at $75k taxable income.

Shouldn't Oregon policymakers be concerned with maintaining their tax competitiveness across all income levels? If not, then the new State Motto should be: "Oregon, higher taxes, but worth it"

Is anybody surprised that Portland Public Schools have experienced declining enrollments? Many families have escaped to the suburbs, while others have decided to opt out, sending their kids to private school.

Moreover, some of the kids would actually WALK a bit, offsetting in part the loss of their PE programs.

Far easier said than done. Elementary school bus routes, for example, are drawn up because there are rules in place that require buses for any walking route that would require a student to cross a major road (Hawthorne, Powell, 39th, etc.). Elementary schools are located in the middle of neighborhoods, whereas Tri-Met buses only serve the arteries. Can you imagine a Tri-Met bus trying to drive down some of the crowded streets in SE Portland, for example? This proposal is completely unworkable, and, I'd say, totally indicative of the type of "solutions" that the anti-school groups like to toss around.

Not to mention the fact that I'm not about to put my seven year old alone on an unsupervised TriMet bus, for starters.

I ride TriMet myself. I love TriMet - and I escorted my daughter to and from school all of last year, courtesy of TriMet.

This year, I walk her four blocks away from my house to catch a bus to her school, where up to 6 or 7 other kids are at the same bus stop on any given morning. I put her directly into the car of a driver who is responsible for her safety, and he, in turn, hands her over to a school staff person.

(Middle and high school students, on the other hand, are *already* using TriMet - as most regular TriMet users can already testify - my own kid gets a monthly youth pass, and most of his friends are similarly equipped.)

I will tell you this - the alleged cost savings you might gain would be wiped out by the per-student losses you'd incur as parents use the lack of bus transportation as just one more reason to select a different option for their kids. Either that or we'll pay for it with increased congestion on our roads as parents ferry their children, one by one, to and from school each day in their automobiles.

I will tell you this - the alleged cost savings you might gain would be wiped out by the per-student losses you'd incur as parents use the lack of bus transportation as just one more reason to select a different option for their kids.

Of course, Betsy. But that supposes that the anti-school people are actually serious about finding a solution, not simply throwing a variety of ill-conceived ideas at the wall in the hopes that one of them manages to stick.

Here's an idea: salary and benefits freeze for all personnel. Remember: it's for the Children!

I find the concept of "anti school" interesting. Who is anti school? We all went to school, our kids go to school, so just who is anti school? There are those of us who recognize and admit that the public school systems are broken in many cities and districts, and we want to see things fixed. We want districts and teachers to be accountable, we want appropriate class sizes, and long school years that provide the courses the kids need to get into college. We want good, fresh teachers who really want to teach, and are not just sticking around for retirement and bennies as their only source of motivation.

We want teachers who motivate kids to learn, safe playgrounds, and art and music and all of that. What we no longer are willing to accept are excuses and the cries for "more money" instead of trying to run schools like an efficient business whose "product" is a well educated kid.

Personally, I fled outside of Portland because we wanted a smaller district that was less out of control. We're dealing with a beast, but not the King Kong of Portland Public Schools which is clearly out of control.

So, we're not anti school, we're pro good schools and smart well educated school kids. I personally think that's a good thing.

Sam Adamas has asked his email list for comments on this subject over at his 'blog.

Flame war at Sam's Place!

Think that anyone will get the message that we need the legislature to do something about this? Until then, my kid's in public school and I'll pay the tax anyway, but I want a real solution to this, or at least someone to talk about it ahead of time for a change.

I'm Pro-Choice. I think kids should have money allocated to them, and they can go wherever they think they can get the best education. Schools like Rob Kremer's Arthur Academy will pop up all over. Some will be math schools, others will be arts schools, some Montessori, some will even be the very public schools we're complaining about.

What is obvious to me is that the public school model is broken. Between PERS and seniority-only pay systems, there's no incentive to improve, only to ask for more money.

Many Portlanders think competition is evil, but the mediocrity of monopoly, especially when it comes to our children, is far worse.

"We want districts and teachers to be accountable, we want appropriate class sizes, and long school years that provide the courses the kids need to get into college. We want good, fresh teachers who really want to teach, and are not just sticking around for retirement and bennies as their only source of motivation."

Then, Slacker, you have to be willing to pay for these things. An urban school district faces many expensive challenges that a suburban district doesn't--such as the requirement to educate a large proportion of children with disabilities and children from impoverished backgrounds. Also, because of this state's peculiar school-funding mechanism, Portland sends much of it's school tax money outside the city.

Sure, the public school system is a big organization, and like all big organizations we can assume it has inefficiencies. But how in the world do you reach the conclusion, as your post seems to imply, that the problem with Portland schools is that they aren't run enough "like a business"? The school-business analogy just doesn't hold up. Public schools, for instance, have no say in the kind of "raw material" they accept for transformation into the "product" that you describe as "an educated kid."

If I were free to run a school like a business, first of all I'd select only the most promising raw material, and I wouldn't jam the machinery with an excess amount of material, because I'd want to focus on the quality rather than quantity of my product. I'd target as the cutomers for my final product only those who could pay a lot for it--because I'd want to charge a lot more than those clunky old-fashioned public schools can get away with.

The business I've just described is a high-end private school, like OES or Catlin Gable. But how many of us can afford to send our kids to such a place? For the middle and lower classes, public schools are a great bargain. I just hope that greed and selfishness in combination with ignorance and short-sightedness don't lead us in Portland to abandon what was once, when funding was adequate, a model urban school district--and which is still a relatively good urban district, thanks to a lot of dedicated teachers and parents.


Your comments are not speaking to the problem, they're simply demagoguing a pro-choice solution. Slacker is not suggesting schools operate like manufacturing plants, taking raw goods and processing them into finished products as you suggest. Take a look at Europe. Dollars follow kids wherever they want to go. Schools compete for the kids. Even special needs kids are taken care of because there are schools that cater to just those kids.

We are one of the only nations that assigns schools to children. Most countries allow their kids to pick. The result is better schooling, higher teacher pay, and smarter kids. There are even examples of that ere in the US. See Oakland. A school district there takes the lowest-income kids and is consistently beating the upper-income kids across the bay in testing because his model isn't beholden to the bureaucratic and union rules that dominate the other bay-area districts.

The argument that city schools are at a disadvantage becasue they have to take the poor kids is a load. Kids are kids. You give them a chance and a desire to learn and they will. Relegating them to mediocrity in their local school is criminal. It makes me furious to hear that kids are being "sent back" to their home school when they are discovered to have attempted (the nerve) to go to a nearby school that's better for them. We punish our poorest kids routinely. Defend that. I dare you. You can't, as it's indefensible.

"Sorry, you're too poor to live in Irvington, so you can't get a good education. Good luck raising yourself out of poverty, kid. No, you can't go to Alameda Elementary School, you're too poor. Sorry, you can't go to a good private school either. You're too poor. Sorry, you are going to be relegated to your failing school to which we can't recruit teachers because the good ones all work at Alameda."

It's the model that's broken, not the budget. The model. Tier I PERS employees too expensive? Why not lay them off? Oh, that's right, union rules forbid it. Even if the kids are slaughtered in the meantime. Why not pay great teachers more? Union rules forbid meritocracy in favor of mediocrity. Why not lay off bad teachers? They have seniority, and unless you lay off all the newer teachers first, or unless the bad teacher beats up a kid or something, there's not much you can do. Union rules.

Though, I give PPS credit for using the law enacted a few years ago to fire bad teachers more easily. It's a step in the right direction.

Let's talk about whether the model works before discussing whether we need more money. I promise not to demagogue if you won't...


I don't know what you mean by telling me I'm "demagoguing a pro-choice solution." At any rate, my basic point is that the free market or business model of education that you, Slacker and others try to apply to education doesn't hold up--in part because public schools are charged with the responsibility of educating all children and ultimately cannot "compete for kids" as you suggest they should.

And although I'm interested enough in your claims about the Oakland school district to look into them, I've seen no evidence elsewhere that, as you put it, "the argument that city schools are at a disadvantage because they have to take the poor kids is a load. Kids are kids." We see everywhere that poverty and poor educational performance are linked. The correlation between the two is perfectly evident, for instance, in Portland: wealthy neigborhood means high-performing public schools; poor neighborhood means low-performing public schools. I'm not saying that we shouldn't try to do better by our poor children. I absolutely think we should try-- and I think we can succeed, given enough funding to address the greater needs of poorer kids.

In general, I don't think the public school model is broken. I think it's a good model that works well with proper funding. That the U.S. spends more on public education than other first-world nations has much to do with our attempt to provide universal public education to a population that is much more diverse and more severely battered by poverty and social ills than all other first-world nations.

I also take issue with your anti-union rhetoric. Yes, bad teachers should be weeded out of the school system, but good teachers should be protected. Good management is mainly responsible for the former; a strong union is responsible for the latter. Are you serious in suggesting that all Tier 1 PERS employees simply be layed off to save money? Is that how you'd want any workplace to operate? Is that how a meritocracy works in your view? I'd call that age discrimination, and it's against the law. Thank God for unions, if that kind of thinking is indicative of the way in which average citizens regard the hard-working, middle-income wage-earners who teach their children.

And I wonder, by the way, how teachers are supposed to be observed and evaluated if the administrative ranks of the schools are reduced to a bare minimum, as called for by those who see "bloated adminsitration" everywhere they look and use that as the "reason" (I'd call it an unexamined, self-serving excuse) for not supporting public school funding.

Yes, our public schools could be better. But improving them won't come cheap. Which is worrisome, because contrary to what the rapidly multiplying spawn of Ronald Reagan would have us believe, greed and complete selfishness are not virtues--even in regard to paying taxes. Whether or not we in Portland manage to stop the deterioration of our public schools is a test of the kind of people we are and how much we care about each other.

(In case you're inclined to jump to conclusions about me and my interest in this issue: No, I'm not a teacher. No, I've never belonged to a union. No, I'm not wealthy; I earn pretty close to the statistical median. And no, my children are no longer in public school. They both graduated and are now in college, for which the public schools prepared them well.)

Sigh. Vancouver, here i come. I am so tired of Portland political bullsh*t. And I've only been here five years. How do you longtime residents take it?

Paul, yes, we took it.....in the shorts! We believed in our Mayor and the leaders of Portland. And they let us down. Over and over again. And when we finally got tired of it, we moved to the previously dreaded 'burbs, where our city leaders "get it" when it comes to running a city. They focus on serving the community with the basics. They aren't trying to change world politics, bashing the current administration (a favorite sport of mine, truth be told) or pushing a personal agenda of gay marriage or whatever. They simply run the city, which is what they are hired to do. They provide us with great police, lovely parks, paved streets without potholes, libraries that are open 7 days a week and evenings too, they encourage community and family involvement, provide an efficient water and sewer system (at half of what I used to pay in Portland!), and embrace the wishes of the people. We've got great parks and recs programs for kids and adults because this is what the people wanted their money to go to. And our leaders listened! We've got great senior services, too. And, our schools are great, with lots of parental involvement. Yes, I pay some hefty property taxes, but in my opinion, I get every cent back in services. And because I get so much in return, I am happy to pay for all of it. The exact opposite of Portland.

To move to the suburbs seemed so boring, so bourgeoise, so minivan, so ho hum. Turns out it's just fine, just fine. And no more "takin' it!"


Where are you? We checked into some housing in Vancouver this weekend. Amazing.

Looks like I can walk away with a nice 75k profit from the house I bought 3 years ago. I can turn that over into a house in Vancouver and have a mortgage loan with .5 higher interest rate and 40k more in loan.

But ...
Space: 5 bdrm + 3 baths vs. 4 bdrm + 1 bath (I have four children). Almost double the square footage.

Property taxes: $2500 vs. $4000

Utilities: looks like I'll save about $100-$125/month.

And then the schools ...

Ok, I'll drop at least $100 month sending pollutants into the air as I drive down I-205. But do I have a choice?

Why not get rid of half the administration? Frankly, it's all bull**** when the teachers and administrators complain about no money when cuts to management would solve the problem. I'm not prepared to spend any more tax money when private school do a better job with less dolars.


Please make sure your figures are correct.

Administration currently comprises 4% of PPS spending. The impending cut totals 20% of the budget. Your "solution," is, unfortunately, still about 40 million short of solving the problem.

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