Portland Public Schools

Recent announcemments of proposed school closures in the Portland Public School District has again focused the attention of a group of parents on the actions and plans of the Portland School Board and the recently hired School Superintendent, Vicki Phillips.

The continued existence of at least adequate school performance is, especially in Oregon, tied to the way public schools are funded. In Oregon a large percentage of school funding is through the income tax.

I believe such a heavy reliance on the income tax is not the best way to fund state programs and school programs, especially in times of high unemployment and/or the current situation where we have a reliance on low wage income and retiree income plus high unemployment.

Public schools have a mix of funding sources and you can find some of the info about revenue and spending at the following links.

There is also more information about finances at the website of Citizens for Oregon’s Future.

Oregon’s financing of public schools also relies on profits from the Oregon Lottery. I, personally don’t think relying on lottery funds is a great idea because of the transitory nature of the funds, but I can understand why some folks want to take the money as long as some money is actually coming in. The Oregon Lottery has a webpage that tells people where the profits go.

Multnomah County, where a lot of Portland Public Schools hang out, has instituted a county income tax with much, but not all, of the revenue dedicated to public schools in the county.

The Oregonian, Oregon’s largest newspaper, has weighed in on Portland’s proposed school closures with some editorials. I’m going to highlight two of them. I don’t necessarily agree with the editorials but they show that the proposals of Vicki Phillips have garnered some attention and any attention given public schools in Portland is probably a good thing.

Since links to webpages to the Oregonian seem to rot before their time I’m putting the editorials in blockquotes at the end of this post.

I think the general state of affairs of public schools in Oregon is abysmal. I think the first thing that needs to be done is to change how Oregon gets revenue. I think Oregon should do away with the personal income tax, keep the corporate income tax, and institute a sales tax with, of course, the provisions that food, medical stuff, health insurance, etc. be exempted.

The Two Editorials:

  1. More From The Oregonian | Subscribe To The Oregonian
    School closures: the board’s role
    Portland board members can support the superintendent while still rejecting any closures that don’t make sense
    Friday, February 25, 2005

    T he Portland School Board, like the rest of Portland, deeply wants Superintendent Vicki Phillips to succeed. But wanting her success does not require the board to rubber-stamp all of her ideas.

    It’s something to keep in mind as the board grapples with Phillips’ plan to close six Portland schools and reconfigure several others. Phillips is being bold and provocative while helping the district deal with shrinking enrollment and limited funds. That’s her job.

    Now, the seven elected board members must do their jobs. They must oversee the superintendent, listen to their constituents and make sure any big changes are in the community’s best interest.

    Overall, Phillips’ plan looks good — with the glaring exception of a proposal to close two exceptionally rated, average-cost elementary schools. Some questions remain, too, about the plan to change Jefferson High School into a 7-12 school.

    Phillips may incorporate some of the community’s ideas and concerns into her final recommendations to the school board Monday. She may not. Either way, she answers to the school board. The board should approve major management plans that will help the public and reject the rest.

    That’s a far cry from micromanaging at one extreme, or rubber-stamping at the other. That’s board leadership.

    The school board closed four small schools in the past several years to save money and adapt to the city’s declining number of school-age children. Phillips wants to close six more. Four of these proposed closures make sense: Applegate and Kenton elementary schools have very low, declining enrollments and high per-student costs. So do Whitaker and Tubman middle schools.

    Phillips also suggests changing many K-5 schools in North Portland to K-6 schools. This is part of a larger and creative plan to stabilize schools and improve education in North Portland.

    But the school board should reject Phillips’ proposal to shut down Smith and Edwards elementary schools. Both have average, or below average, per-student costs. Both earned “exceptional” ratings in academic achievement. Enrollments at both schools are relatively stable. Neighborhood support ranges from passionate to extreme.

    These schools work. They should be left alone — or switched next year to K-6 as part of a larger plan with nearby middle schools.

    Portland Public Schools suffered a vacuum in educational leadership for years. Having a new and decisive superintendent who makes plans, speaks plainly and rolls a few heads is a welcome shock. Nobody wants to jinx things by second-guessing — not during Phillips’ first year, and not with state and local funding in serious jeopardy.

    But Portland’s neighborhood schools are the crown jewels of this city. Its elementary schools are invaluable for getting people involved for life. They are worth fighting for. The lower-cost, high-achieving schools should be closed last.

    Not first.

  2. Battle beyond Portland closures
    The countless local fights about cuts and closures won’t end until Oregon boosts its below-average school funding
    Monday, March 07, 2005

    P arents of students at Smith and Edwards elementary schools in Portland are organized and passionate. They’re fighting hard to protect their beloved schools from closure — and for good reason. The schools have average operating costs and exceptional state ratings.

    But even if Smith and Edwards stay open, the battle is much larger than two neighborhood schools. The fight is for every public school in Oregon.

    Smith and Edwards parents should enlist themselves in this bigger, statewide fight. So should families and businesses connected to every Oregon school facing closure or cuts next year.

    Otherwise, these local struggles and heartaches will never end.

    Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s proposed school budget for the next biennium is just slightly higher than the current state budget — the one that prompted deep cuts statewide and compelled Multnomah County residents to pass a temporary income tax for the county’s eight school districts. In real dollars, this budget falls short of current state funding.

    Legislators may be able to improve on the governor’s school budget. That’s good news, since Kulongoski’s plan would translate into a $17.5 million chunk next year out of Portland’s $400 million budget. This cut might be manageable were it not for two other state-related factors:

    First, Portland residents passed a local levy five years ago to make up for the state’s bare-bones funding. The levy expires this year, and renewal will be difficult because of turnout requirements.

    Second, the county income-tax money runs out next year. Many people thought state funding surely would recover by then. It hasn’t yet.

    Smith, Edwards and four other Portland schools face possible closure this fall against this backdrop of uncertain, overlapping, politically messy and diminishing funds. These latest possible closures are partly because of declining enrollment, but they’re also part of a worst-case budget strategy:

    Superintendent Vicki Phillips knows that big cuts are easier to make at larger schools, where staffing is more flexible.

    It’s tempting to see the closures and most of Portland Public Schools’ troubles as self-inflicted or unique. People forget that state funding is weighted to favor small rural schools and punish small urban ones. They forget that Portland taxpayers get only about a dollar back for every $1.50 they pay into the state school fund. They also forget that any shortfalls naturally look the biggest and most alarming in the state’s largest district.

    The truth is that districts across Oregon are in similar shape. They’ve closed schools, cut days, increased class sizes and limited art, music and physical education. Oregon’s per-student funding used to be above the national average. Today, it’s below average. Many legislators want to do better, but they haven’t yet agreed on a solution.

    This isn’t a Smith or Edwards problem. It’s an Oregon problem. Parents should keep fighting to save their exceptional schools. One way for them to do so is by fighting even harder to save their state.

4 Comments so far

  1. Banana Lee Fishbones (unregistered) on March 30th, 2005 @ 9:34 am

    Bravo, John Hays! This is the stuff I like to see. Tell me what you think of the MultCo Tax. I think it’s crap, only because they wanted it as a temporary measure and now they are wringing their hands about what to do when it goes away and they shouldn’t have been relying on it in the first place. Anyway!

    We were just talking about this at my house last night, so thanks for the super informative links!

  2. John Hays (unregistered) on March 30th, 2005 @ 7:08 pm

    Thanks for the compliment.

    I’m not in favor of the tax and I’m going to give my reasons in a post I’m currently working on. I hope to have it posted tomorrow.

  3. John (unregistered) on April 24th, 2005 @ 11:38 am

    What is the status of the school closures right now? I have read some of links to the Board website but am confused by the language. Is a merger still a school closure? Is there a news story that covers this more clearly.

  4. John Hays (unregistered) on April 24th, 2005 @ 9:01 pm

    I don’t know the latest on the mergers or closures and I haven’t read or seen anything in the news lately. I would imagine that once a school is closed, then the area that school covered is merged with another school area where the school is still open for business. It’s still not completely clear to me.

    You might want to contact somebody in the superintendent’s office for the latest information about school mergers and closures. Here is the website of the Portland Public Schools.


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