School Budget Forecast: Gloomy

Today, a number of organizations, including Stand for Children and the Oregon Bus Project are sponsoring a school funding rally and lobby day at the State Capitol.

So, please feel free to use this space to discuss school funding and the state of Oregon's public schools.

Also, to send a letter to your legislator, go here.

  • (Show?)

    Read Russell Sadler's recent column right here at BlueOregon. That says all there needs to be said about the plight of school funding.

  • The prof (unverified)

    Just to repeat a comment I made before: if I was to give advice to prospective hires with children, or prospective parents, I could not recommend that they move into Portland unless they are going to use the parochial or private system.

    There are excellent schools in Portland, but the ongoing budget crisis has sapped my confidence. The slow attrition of programs (athletics, music, arts); the lack of AP programs; and the clearly superior schools in Lake O, West Linn, Beaverton, and Clark County make these a better destination.

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    Prof, given that LO, Beaverton, and West Linn are all in the state as Portland - and thus stuck with the same funding problems at the macro-level... What would you argue makes the difference between those places and Portland?

    I'm honestly curious, because it seems to me that private fundraising (which folks often point to) can't possibly make up the huge gap.

  • the prof (unverified)


    I wish I knew. Others have better access to numbers, I'm sure. Some of these districts have a relatively higher proportion of expensive homes. I suspect that Portland has a higher proportion of at risk children, ESL, and other costly programs. Also, the Portland district may be overbuilt and have older, more expensive buildings. Finally, their labor contracts may be more restrictive.

    I don't know the reasons, but the gap is apparent to anyone who drives past Lake O or Lakeridge HS (or any of the middle for instance). My son compares the athletic facilities at Lakeridge to what his friends use at Central Catholic, and superior to any PIL school except Lincoln.

    Similarly, anyone who sits through the various Portland parades can't help but notice the glaring absence of PPS bands. They're all from the 'burbs and Vancouver.

    To top it off, the property taxes in Lake O, West Linn, and Clark County are lower.

    I can't figure it out. But the disparities are glaring.

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    As a Lake Oswego HS graduate (1991), I can attest that the schools are/were great.

    That said, the 'proportion of expensive homes' shouldn't make any difference in school funding - remember, all money goes to Salem and comes out on a head-count basis. At least, that's what we've been told since Measure 5 passed in 1990.

    Also, it's worth noting that quality of athletic facilities is hardly a measure of school quality. Mostly, that's because athletic facilities are a) foundation-funded, and b) bond-funded.

    It may be true that wealthier districts can bond more money for construction - but we're talking operating costs here. After all, it ain't the building, it's the learning.

    Maybe Chuck Sheketoff can tell us more about the numbers.

  • Aaron (unverified)

    I was down in Salem yesterday with the Bus Project; the Bus Project recruited hundreds of high school students and adults to join and interact at the rally and lobby various state legislators. It was amazing to see over 2000 adults(unknown about of children) at the rally. The Bus Project’s newest venture getting high schooler’s, the Youth Caucus; engaged was very cool. This is pushes the conversation and debate on the importance of their issues. By far the speakers at the event were great; however, the last speaker of the event was Katrina (lost the agenda to know her last name) was awesome. I hope someone knows her to get her speech to post here at BlueOregon. It was great to see the House Democrats and several Senate Democrats mingling within the crowd. Great looking signs from adults and children emphasizing the importance of adequate school funding; the people that came down for the event was truly motivating to keep volunteering with great organizations like the Bus Project and with whom it collaborates on so many issues.

  • Patrick Allen (unverified)


    The answer to the dilemma posed by the Prof is demographics and economics.

    Our children attend school in the Sherwood district. There are approximately 600 kids in their elementary school, so it's not a small school. The school was rated exceptional the previous two years and dropped to strong in the most recent year because the incredibly high test scores did not continue to go up ( a system designed to show schools failing, but that's a different issue).

    So how is that? It can't be property values as a) our first house in Sherwood cost about $100,000 less than my father's house sold for in Hollywood with the same sq. footage and a similar lot size; and b) the state funding formula equalizes those differences for operating budgets.

    Here's what I think it is:

    1. Incomes. Not only are they solidly in the upper-middle class range in Shwerood, they are incredibly uniform. The percentage of children receiving free and reduced lunches is, if I remember correctly, in the SINGLE digits. This also means the PAC can raise something like $80,000 per year to supplement the basic budget.

    2. Economic opportunity to volunteer. Our kids' school has something like 10,000 hours per year of volunteer time spent, in the class room or doing behind the scenes work that frees teachers for classroom time. That's only possible because there is a high proportion of stay-at-home parents, and that in turn is only possible because of high incomes for the other parent.

    3. Homogeneity. Already mentioned incomes above, but race/ethnicity are also highly "un-diverse." Issues of cultural competence, ESL instruction, etc. are a different universe than they are in Portland. Now, the Prof used Beaverton as an example in his post, and I know that is certainly not a homogeneous district, but I think West Linn and Lake Oswego are.

    4. Age of building stock. Two of the three elementary schools in Sherwood have been build within the past 10 years, and the remaining schools (1 elementary, 1 middle and 1 HS) have undergone significant renovation in that time. From energy efficiency to earthquake preparedness to classrooms that match current instructional practices, those all have to make a difference in the cost to operate the system.

    Those are four off the top for me of how we get the "same state different result" dilemma.

  • sidney (unverified)

    I agree that schools are underfunded and need more money.

    I also believe that human service programs are underfunded, and that people are dying.

    I strongly believe we need more revenue.

    But it looks like revenue is off the table.

    Does anyone really think that education funding should be increase in the absence of additional revenue if it means further cuts to the human services programs? For additional K-12 funding, I've heard ideas of cutting OHP to the mandated populations (this means cutting of tons of kids, handicapped and elderly), ending the Family Health Insurance Assistance Program and putting an end to the Home Care Commission--- basically the union for low-paid workers who help the elderly and disabled live at home.

    I think our school situation is scandalous-- even criminal. But I'm not willing to have more people die either.

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    Patrick... I think you may be right on items 1-3: the built-in advantages of family income (and attendant effects on children's readiness-to-learn and parent's involvement levels) as well as homogeneity - and ease of teaching to that group - are probably huge factors. (Your building quality argument is interesting, but I think probably minor.)

    Here's the rub: Those are factors that can't be changed easily via policy. Instead, we have adjust for those. And that's the problem with our current school funding formulas.

    Speaking in broad strokes, Portland gets screwed in that system. Sure, there's a little here for school lunches and a little there for special education, but a statewide headcount formula discriminates against any district that has legitimate reasons for higher per-student costs.

    I'm no school-finance expert and I'm getting out of my depth a little here (I'm a hack, not a wonk), so.... anybody got a solution to suggest?

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    Sorry all, I don't have a solution to suggest, not being a wonk either. I can only repeat the rant I've posted before as a mom of three young kids set to enter the PPS system.

    I want to be an urban parent. I want to support the schools here. Heck, I'm a graduate of Duniway Grade School and Cleveland High School, and I got a good education in my day.

    But with three very active kids who are going to need organized athletics as an outlet, and one who may need some extra help in learning, more and more I'm unsure that PPS are going to meet our needs. If I have to end up driving three kids around to different places for athletics and have to organize outside tutoring for my child who may need some extra help, well, then, I might as well live in the suburbs if I find those things are available there in the schools there.

    In the meantime, I see more and more urban parents becoming disillusioned and voting with their feet. I wish that someone would address the potential disastrous end game of this trend: that Portland Public Schools ends up like other large cities in the U.S., whose public school systems serve only the poor and disadvantaged, a fact which only makes them weaker and less supported by the general public.

  • Sidney (unverified)

    While I know things are bad in Portland, they are pretty bad everywhere else in the state too. Lake O has additional funding due to local tax measures. As well, Multnomah County schools have benefited from bail outs from the city and the local income tax. Other districts across the state haven't been as fortunate. In fact, some think the Multnomah County income tax is what sunk Measure 30--- meaning they got a bit of help while everyone else in the state was frozen out. All across the state, school districts have also cut teachers, eliminated athletics,and slashed weeks off of school years. They've dumped programs, increased class sizes, etc.

    It is just important to remember this is a statewide problem, not just a Portland problem. Kids outside of the Portland area need just as much good quality education as their friends in Multnomah County.

  • sidney (unverified)

    Forgot to add, districts across the state are often penalized for bad management in Portland schools. When waste, fraud or abuse is uncovered there (as it has unfortunately been) then all school districts are lumped in the same category because of the visibility problems. PPS suffers not just for lack of money, but also for poor leadership. Fortunately, that seems to be improving which is a boon to all of us not living on the I5 corridor, as well as those in Portland.

  • Jon (unverified)

    I would just like to know where the money is going. If you take general fund numbers, this state spends somewhere around $11,000 per kid. (And the new education budget is $900 million more than before, so it was not "cut" as everyone says.) If a teacher is making $50-$60k on average, where is the rest of that going? With 30 kids in a class, there is $330,000 there. I know thats a simple way to look at it, but there has to be money going somewhere besides classrooms. As for ideas to help, I say canning CIM/CAM would be a great start, as would putting immigrant kids in full immersion. I think the only reason the schools keep them in ESL for 5-7 years (their numbers), is to get that extra $1500 per kid every year.

  • the prof (unverified)

    Leslie, We should talk sometime. I also am a parent of four children, one in HS (Cleveland), one in middle (Sellwood), one getting ready to enter Kgarten (Duniway), one more two years out. As an educator, private schools are simply out of the cost equation.

    All my kids are interested in athletics, arts, and music, three programs that have been hammered in PPS. Duniway and Sellwood have reasonable programs but only because there are parents willing to do things like pay $10,000 for an overnight in a teachers backyard (I ain't kidding -- see the recent O story).

    The athletic facilities at Cleveland are a joke -- compare there one paltry football field to the athletic campuses at Lakeridge, LO, or even Lincoln and Wilson.

    We're hanging in for the same reason many hang in--still, 75% of the local kids go to the local schools, and the role of the schools in sustaining a vital neighborhood is crucial. The number of my neighbors who are bailing on the public schools is small, but it seems to be growing each year.

    I don't know what will happen by the time my 4 year old gets ready for middle school. Things don't look good from my vantage point.

    And yes, as someone posted above, I struggled with the recent tax votes. Hell, if I'm going to tax myself, I'd much rather it go to my own County than to the state coffers.

  • Patrick Allen (unverified)


    Here's what I can find:

    2005-07 proposed biennium K-12 budget = $5 billion.

    Number of K-12 students in the 2003-04 school year = 551,315.

    Dividing one into the other get's a state contribution of $4,535 per student per year. Of course, that's the overall average, there is a more complicated formula for actual distribution.

    Of course, state contribution isn't the only funding involved, so let's look at PPS specifically. Their adopted all-funds budget for 2005 is $578 million. Divided by 53,000 students gets you a per student budget of $10,900 per year.

    Now, before looking at where it goes, here's an (I think) useful comparison. Most people say our economic future depends on providing a top quality education to our children. I suspect many might agree that Catlin Gabel provides a top quality education, certainly among the best in Oregon. Here's their tuition schedule:

    Beginning School (pre-k and kindergarten) $13,350 Lower School (grades 1-5)$15,750 Middle School (grades 6-8)$17,450 Upper School (grades 9-12)$18,150

    And that's not counting additional trip and book fees of several hundred dollars per year, and requirement for high school age kids to have their own laptop.

    Now, back to where the money goes. According to the district's all funds budget, it breaks down like this:

    Salaries and benefits 61% Purchased services 14% Debt service 8% Supplies 5% Everything else 5% Contingency and ending balance 7%

    At the risk of going further than anyone wants to know, I imaging the next chestnut is whether the district just has too many "administrators."

    Again, from the PPS budget (available online at, it looks like licensed instructional staff is about 80% of the total. Considering the rest includes not just principals and "administrators" (whatever that means), but instructional aids for special needs children, clerical staff and all the rest, I'm not so sure that's necessarily a low figure. Others may disagree.

    But here again is the fundamental thing I take away from this. Some want us to believe public schools are wasting the money, and that private education does it better. Fine, then if schools really have all the money they need, help me understand why the finest private education in Oregon seems to cost about 60% more per student per year than PPS?

  • (Show?)

    Patrick... Thanks for his. Great stuff.

  • sidney (unverified)


    So you are comfortable saying you'd choose to tax yourself and keep the dollars in your own school even if that means selling all the other kids in the state up the river? Don't kids in John Day and Eugene and Roseburg and Alsea and Fossil deserve a good education as much as Portland kids?

    Like so many other things, Oregonians get so caught up in Portland. Folks, that is just one city in the state. Other towns and communities are just as important, and kids in Deschutes, Curry, Jefferson, Josephine, and Morrow County don't deserve a short shrift in order to protect Portland.

  • (Show?)

    So you are comfortable saying you'd choose to tax yourself and keep the dollars in your own school even if that means selling all the other kids in the state up the river?

    Actually, if Portland were to keep the taxes that we collect, our schools would be fine, since there is a net outflow of about $300 million in tax revenue from Portland to the rest of the state each year. Historically, we have always subsidized schools and other public services in rural parts of the state.

  • Scott Bailey (unverified)

    A few more details on school funding in Portland: last year, the budget for the entire central office was about $15 million-- on the order of 3 percent of the total operating budget. The District has cut several hundred staff from the central office over the past decade-- including the entire curriculum department, over 100 custodians who were outsourced, and a number of mid-level administrators. The Info Technology unit has the same number of staff as it did before desktops and laptops started showing up at schools-- etc.

    From the Portland District website, is useful.

    You can get comparable data for every school and school district in the state at Select "profile" from the menu on the left side of the page to get per-pupil cost comparisons for any school, with comparable state data for 2002-03. If you select "district profile", you can compare statistics for two districts, say, Portland and Lake Oswego, for 2002-03 (no L.O. data for 03-04 has been posted). You'll find Portland spent substantially more per student than Lake Oswego-- but also had substantially more students with special needs.

    I want to agree with Sidney that this is a statewide issue, and that human services are as important as education. But we will not get more funding for anything as long as large numbers of Oregonians (42 percent, according to the Chalkboard Project) think that schools already have enough money. Lots of Oregonians think that government wastes too much money-- and the less they know about government, the more they think government wastes.

  • Jon (unverified)

    Patrick- "help me understand why the finest private education in Oregon seems to cost about 60% more per student per year than PPS?"

    Possibly because Catlin is a "for profit" institution. And they can charge whatever they want, regardless of the "cost" of the education they provide.

  • Patrick Allen (unverified)


    As the saying goes, you're entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts. Catlin Gabel is registered with the Secretary of State as a domestic non-profit corporation. Check for yourself at

  • Patrick Allen (unverified)

    Oh, and by the way:

    According to information on file with the Oregon Dept. of Justice, they appear to have lost around $975,000 on revenue of about $11.8 million.

  • Kellie (unverified)

    Why is the total compensation for Oregon teachers higher than almost all (43) of the other states? This seems to be the primary problem for sustained funding in Oregon. It is why we have a very high student/teacher ratio and shortened school years.

  • LT (unverified)

    Oh, so administrative salaries don't matter?

    And what do you mean by "Why is the total compensation for Oregon teachers higher than almost all (43) of the other states?"

    Does that mean the total number of teachers and their total amount of salaries? Does it cost more to live in Portland than in Lincoln County or Wallowa County? Is that factored into the statistics?

    Who says higher than 43 other states? Does the education/ experience level have anything to do with it? My niece teaches in Colorado. She graduated from college there in 1999. I would expect her to make less than someone who has been teaching for 20 years.

    But then I am not looking at teaching salaries as the only waste in a school district--esp. since I live in a district where the community supports teachers and questions the wisdom of administrators.

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