Why I’ll be voting yes on iTax, rev 2

I’ve been struggling in the face of what seems like overwhelming negativity to articulate just why I believe that supporting a tax in May – yes, another tax – is necessary. I won’t go as far as to say that anyone not supporting this effort ‘ought to be ashamed’ – I, like many of you, am weary about the many outstretched hands looking for a piece of my money ‘just for a short while.’ And I – like many of you – are less than thrilled with some of the spending choices our city has made in recent years (aerial tram, anyone?)

Finally, I – like most of you – am on a budget myself – and yet another tax will definitely hurt me. But I’m also a single working parent of two children who doesn’t have another viable option should my school district go belly-up. Portland’s business community will have a harder time attracting new businesses (and their employers) to the city with the spectre of another Doonesbury cartoon on the horizon. And – at the risk of beating the doom and gloom drums so many of you are tired beyond belief of hearing by now – failing to provide for a strong public school system will irretrievably alter Portland’s community fabric as families in search of a better option decamp for a ‘better’ place.

Jack Bog said much the same thing over at his blog with a post entitled Yes on the Portland income tax – and I finally found my voice as the 36th commenter amidst a crowd of naysayers – so I ported part of my response below to use in this post.

I’ll do a more detailed post about dollars and cents later (confession – I haven’t yet looked at the latest figures, nor have I read yesterday’s Oregonian), but I do know this.

PPS has been working from flat or declining budgets the last three years – and the 50 million iTax gap is only one of the funding sources to dry up in recent years (the local option property tax, the 10-year capital bond levy, which provided building improvements, and federal cuts to the Title 1 program are just some of the funds PPS has lost in recent years.

Fifty five percent of this year’s budget goes for teachers and textbooks, another 17.6% is targeted for school staff and support, and 15% for buses, buildings and infrastructure needs (88.4% for those three categories combined.) Central administration costs are 3.8%, debt payments are 3.4%, and contingency funds account for the remaining 4.5%

The monies coming in to refurbish Jefferson? The efforts to retool school structures (breaking large high schools into a collection of smaller schools, for example)? A lot of that’s funded by grant money – the district got aggressive about retooling their offerings to better appeal to parent/student expectations (not to mention federal achievement mandates); foundations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation acknowledged and rewarded their efforts with $$$.

Add in the domino effect that the district faces as it strives to stay one step ahead of other potential federal funding cuts as a result of the misguided No Child Left Behind act (sure, there’s plenty of room for enforcement, but not many dollars to support bringing achievement up in the first place), and the district is doing an amazing job trying to keep upright amidst the ever-shifting sands they’re on top of – in my opinion, anyway.

And then there’s the fact that parents are putting in plenty of sweat equity of their own – from fundraising to pay for ‘luxury’ positions like librarians and teachers aides to volunteering in the classroom to washing down cafeteria tables, weeding playgrounds and bringing in reams of copy paper, boxes of kleenex, and pencils to supplement the money that many teachers kick in out of their own pockets. That’s fine – we ought to have some skin in the game.

(Don’t even get me started about the massive inequities that can create, where the ‘have’ schools benefit from an involved parent community while the ‘have-not’ schools stumble along in their wake.)

I’ve heard ad nauseum that we’re merely putting on yet another band aid here – and to that, I say – so what? When the patient’s laying on the operating table groggy from loss of blood, yeah – you put on a big honking band-aid. And you don’t have the luxury to debate about this potential solution or that potential solution or go marching off in search of the guy who stuck the knife in (otherwise known as our vaunted legislature in Salem) to ‘make it right.’

First, you stop the bleeding. Even if it seems like yet another freakin’ injury and you’re tired of cleaning up the mess.

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