How should we fund Portland's schools?

Last year, the local-option property tax that funds Portland Public Schools expired. This year, the Multnomah County income tax will expire.

How should Portland voters fill that gap? A new income tax? A new property tax? Nothing at all?

The Oregonian weighs in today:

Some school advocates are leaning toward a citywide income tax as the surest, safest and most lucrative way to proceed. Some of them pine for an income tax that would last as long as 10 years. ... It would raise $10 million for every tenth of 1 percent of a tax, which adds up fast. A 0.8 percent income tax, for example, would raise $80 million a year, to be split among the city's five school districts. What's more, voter approval wouldn't be subject to the double-majority requirements of a property tax.

Still, we think it makes more sense for the Portland School Board to ask voters in May to approve a new five-year, local-option property tax. It's a stable, broad-based tax, and it's a normal part of the state's school-funding system. The Portland levy would raise only about $35 million a year, which isn't enough to plug the $50 million hole. However, the district could make up the difference with a combination of reserves, cuts and supplemental funds from the city and business community. Those supplemental funds would end by the 2007-08 school year, assuming the state Legislature passes a better schools budget by then.

Portland School Board members have a third option for balancing next year's budget, of course. They could thrill the district's critics by cutting the full $50 million and relying solely on state funding, which has fallen below the national per-student average. That option, however, is unacceptable to everyone who wants their schools to be better than average -- or even exceptional. Portland can do better.


  • theanalyst (unverified)

    My understanding is that a significant amount of tax revenue goes to the rural, "red" areas of the state in order to fund their schools, roads, welfare, etc. This is the part of the state in which people raise themselves by their own bootstraps, and don't need the government help. So I say great, let them pay for their own schools and everything else, and then the tax revenue can stay here.

  • (Show?)

    Maybe they should also look at cutting some jobs in administration. Last year while they were cutting teachers, they were adding several admin jobs that paid more than $100K each.

    If the district has to cut positions, teachers should not be the first to go. Yes, support staff are important-- but job #1 at schools is teaching students-- and no one is more important than teachers.

    Teachers have to do more work when there are cuts, as they have more students to teach, more tests and papers to grade, etc. If administrators have to do more work because some of their co-workers are cut, it's only fair.

    The one way I think Portland should absolutely not pay for its schools is by a county-wide tax. Other districts in the county planned for the county tax to end and won't see very big cuts, if any at all. PPS is basically the only district in the county experiencing this problem.

  • Sid Leader (unverified)

    I respect Jenni's writings here, but feel many folks are distracted by the expenses side of the ledger, i.e. suits vs. teachers.

    The real story, and the one that I pray to God will soon be addressed, is PPS sending close to $150,000,000 downstate to fund schools that would be empty if left to pay for themselves, as partially-referenced by theanalyst above.

    This is not constitutional and can not stand.

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    I'm not distracted by it-- I fully understand that money from areas like Portland is being sent to other districts. However, there are districts also receiving less than $1 for each it pays that aren't running into the same major deficit problems. So with PPS it's a much bigger problem than just it not getting its full money back.

    In Texas we had a system dubbed "Robin Hood"-- they took from the rich districts and gave to the poor ones. It was just thrown out by the courts because it was equated with a state property tax, which is illegal in Texas. I don't know what the Constitution here in Oregon states, so I can't say if the same is true here.

  • Gil Johnson (unverified)

    This is the most crucial issue in the city of Portland. For decades, Portland's schools were held in such high esteem that over 95% of all families sent their children to public schools. Since the mid-90s, that percentage has fallen, as well as the number of families with school age children. I don't know what the percentage is now, but it is probably down to around 80%.

    The viability of a city can be measured in how many of its citizens share in the same civic institutions. We've had a great library system and a great school system, though both have been victims of mismanagement. We have an okay mass transit system, which is used by a much smaller percentage of citizens. Our parks are also okay, though the distribution of them is pretty random and the outlying areas don't have enough parks.

    About two years ago, as a member of the City Club's research board, I pushed for a study that would come up with a stable and sufficient means of funding our public schools. The research project was begun early in 2004, with the intent of issuing a report in September of that year.

    Well, two Septembers have come and gone and we still don't have a City Club report. I've talked with the study committee members and they indicate it is a very difficult task. Many think the only answer is a sales tax, which probably will never fly even in Portland.

    An income tax will be resisted by the business community, among others, because Oregon's income tax is already high. A property tax is pretty regressive. We really need a region-wide tax solution, but Beaverton squelched that.

    I once threw out the idea of a media tax, levied on cable TV usage. Nobody thinks this is a serious idea, though a television tax is in place in most other developed nations.

    By the way, Jenni's assertion that too much is spent on administration and not enough on teachers is a bit out of date. Administrative expenses were really curtailed when Jim Scherzinger was the acting superintendent and though Vicki Phillips has added a couple of people, the whole district is operating pretty lean, given all the state and federal mandates. Sure, some of the east county districts are better off. On the other hand, David Douglas (my alma mater) really stretches the limits on bilingual education (for which the district gets extra money). What I mean is that the district continues to classify a student as needing bilingual funding a year or two after the student has shown a proficiency in English.

    As for Sid's comment about the consitutionality of sending out $150 million to other districts (actually, I thought it was around $400 million per biennium), I believe the idea is equalization of education funding throughout the state. Rich districts send funds to poor districts so that everyone (theoretically) has access to a similar education. Unequal education funding is what is unconstitutional.

    What we need is a definition of what constitutes an adequate educational system. We have an ideal (the Quality Education Plan advanced by Lynn Lundquist and others). And the governor and the legislature each biennium offer budgets to give schools what they think is adequate. But there are no objective standards as to class size, length of school year, etc. If we could decide on these details and fund to that level, then it should be optional for district such as Portland to go beyond merely adequate and seek funding for truly quality eduction.

    Don't get me started. Oh, okay, I got started. I guess I'll stop now.

  • Skip from Gresham (unverified)

    Folks....the education funding crisis is all about pensions and health care. If you continue to give teachers a health care plan FAR more lucrative than the average tax payer receives and then allow them to retire with FULL retirement beneifts at an average age of;s a recipe for financial disaster.

    Until t4achers receive a more modest health care plan more in line with what we the tax payers receive....AND require them to work to at least 62 years of age before they qualify for full retirement, there will be a school funding problem. PERIOD.

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    Actually, it isn't out of date. It's based on Vicki Phillips adding several positions at $100K+ plus benefits at a time when she was cutting teachers. It seems to me that it would have been better to have left those positions open and instead keep on more teachers.

    And I never said adminw as bloated. I'm saying that when there are cuts to be made, you can make cuts in admin as well-- not always teachers and librarians first.

    Skip from Gresham:

    The average tax payer in Oregon also doesn't have a masters degree. You can't compare what teachers and the "average Oregonian" get. That's not even comparing apples to oranges-- it's apples to cows.

    You can compare the average Oregonian with a masters degree to a teacher, and that'll get you a better comparison. You'll find that the average salary (not including benefits) for a person with a masters degree is often $75K-- far above the average teacher's salary in Oregon.

  • Skip from Gresham (unverified)

    Jenni....the problem with that analysis is that the average tax payer is footing the bill....and resents paying for health plans that far eclipse anything they can ever dream of....let alone a pension plan that is fiscally unsustainable. If teachers (or anyone else with a masters degree) want to be compensated by that alone, then they need to abandon teaching and enter the private sector where hard nosed day in and day out competition determined their fate.

    How ANYONE can possibly defend a teacher retiring with full benefits (on average 82% of salary) at age 55 is beyond my comprehension. I have had a long and lucrative career....but at age 55 I would only be qualified for 45% of my pension.

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    People who go to school for 5+ years and earn a masters degree deserve to have salary/benefits that are higher than the average Oregonian-- which only has some college.

    I have a lot to say on this topic, but since it isn't going to change your mind and will only result in you repeating the same rhetoric on how teachers should be paid more like the average Oregonian, I'm not going to bother. I have better things to do with my time than waste my breath, which is obviously what I'd be doing.

  • (Show?)

    Can we inject some facts and some sources into this conversation? I'm seeing a lot of statistical assertions without sources here.

    Gil & Jenni, what percentage of PPS spending goes to "administration" versus teachers? And is that higher or lower than the regional/state/national average? What about compared to other big-city districts? (A handful of high-paying admin jobs is interesting symbolically, but $500k-$750k ain't nothing compared to the $50 million hole we're discussing.)

    Sid & Gil, which is it - $100m or $450m (per year or per biennium) that Portland taxpayers pay to fund schools outside Portland?

    Jenni, you say there are other districts besides Portland that receive less than they pay out? Can you name one?

    Skip, what is the average pension/benefit program earned by an average taxpayer with a comparable education? Is Jenni right that comparable employees earn much higher salaries - above $75k/yr?

    Skip, do you have a source on your assertion that Portland teachers retire at 55 with an average of 82% of salary?

    Let's get some facts and sources in here. It's too important to leave to unsourced assertions.

  • sasha (unverified)

    Hey what's with all the complaining about Portland-based tax revenues going downstate?

    I thought liberals liked income redistribution.

    I guess you don't like it when it's YOUR income getting handed out.

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    There was a story back in May in the Oregonian on this topic. It seems that it was all the metro districts that got less than $1 back for each $1 they sent to the state. The rural districts received more than $1. There were some exceptions if I remember correctly, but it pretty much was split along metro/rural lines.

    Hopefully these links will work-- they're to a Google cache of the article. Unfortunately, you can only see the first and last pages of the story. I was unable to find the cached version of pages 2 & 3 Page 1: Page 4:

    The entire article is available for $2.95.

    I don't know a lot regarding the numbers for how much PPS spends in administration costs, which is why I didn't bring them up. I don't live in Portland, and thus don't spend as much time researching it. I do know that the national average as shown in the the June 2004 report of the National Center for Educational Statistics was at 61.5% spent in classroom.

    Oregon's average was 59.2%, which puts its ranking at #40.

    If I'm reading the numbers right for PPS from their pie chart, they spend 56.8% in the classroom. But it's hard to tell, as they lump together all the other personnel/costs within the school into categories called "classroom support" and "building support." This may include some expenses that are considered in-the-classroom expenses.

    In comparison, in the district I live in (Gresham-Barlow), 61% of the budget is spent on teaching. There is another 9% that goes to "teaching support," which includes some of in-the-classroom expenses. They spend 87% of their money on teaching, teaching support, and "other" support-- food service, maintenance, etc. This does not include any administration. They spend 11% on school (8%) & central administration (3%).

    GBSD has 6.2% in reserves; PPS has 4.5%. GBSD purposefully kept money in the reserves account-- they put in money from the county income tax to help keep the budget stable when the temp tax ended.

    PPS does not list what its school administration costs are, instead rolling them into "building support" and "classroom support." Their central admin costs are 3.8%.

    But my problem with PPS isn't about percentages. It's about when Phillips made cuts, she targeted teachers first. At the same time she was hiring administrators at salaries that would have kept at least 2 teachers on staff for every administrator hired.

    The school board also hired Phillips at a much higher salary than they should have-- especially with the budget problems they were looking at. This is why so many states are looking at rules that state the superintendent can only make a certain amount of money, based on the average or highest teacher salary.

    PPS has plenty of problems, and as long as they have its current school board and superintendent, I'm not sure things are going to get any better.

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    A few administrative positions and 50k off of Vicki's salary ain't gonna plug a 50 million dollar gap. Everyone says cut administration, but is there really administrative fat in the Portland system? I don't know, but no one has posted credible data here.

    What is the basis of your claim that the other MC districts have "prepared" for this? Have they done so by growing class sizes and cutting programs?

    Skip, do you think taxpayers support full retirement for members of the military after 20 years? How about cops? Firemen? I agree with you that PERS seems unrealistically generous to me, but remember that PERS has already been fixed for new hires--the averages you cite now are based on the old system, not the new one.

    I don't know the answer to this posting. I'd support a local property tax levy or a income tax.

    As a parent with three children in PPS, living in a knee-jerk liberal upper middle class neighborhood , I can tell you this for sure: if this does not get fixed, get ready for serious public school flight, especially from the middle and high schools. Among my daughter's middle school classmates, it's getting harder and harder to find the kids who are planning on sticking it out to high school.

    As I've posted now, the folks who say let's starve the beast to fix this in 10 years are avoiding the reality: if this does not get fixed now, the school system could easily spin out of control.

    If I was relocating to Portland area right now, I'd move to Clark County, N Clackamas, West Linn, or Lake O. And I'd recommend other families do the same.

  • Robin (unverified)

    Kari is right. "Can we inject some facts into this conversation?"

    Gill mentioned the QEM. "(the Quality Education Plan advanced by Lynn Lundquist and others)"

    The "Quality Education Model", having been thoroughly exposed for the totally baseless fabrication that it is, should never be used in any school funding discussion.

    Anyone using this piece of work is either far behind the learning curve or is knowingly using false and manipulative information.

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    I never said it was going to plus the gap. I'm not sure you could hit $50 million even if you cut every single administrator.

    What I said was that cutting a few of those positions (or not hiring for them when there are open positions) will keep a few teachers from being laid off. If you have to choose between laying off 3 teachers or not hiring one PR position, it shouldn't be a hard decision to keep the three teachers.

    PPS' central admin runs almost 1% higher than districts in the area. Of course that 1% is a lot more in actual dollars since PPS' budget is much bigger. I can't say how their school admin budget looks since they don't separate it out in their graphs-- it's grouped together in other categories.

    I'll keep looking around to see if I can find more info on the exact numbers regarding admin costs. They don't appear too much higher than other schools, but that's based on a "first blush" look of their budget. However, you have to remember that Oregon is below the national average when it comes to in-classroom spending.

    The basis of my claim that other districts have prepared are news stories in the Oregonian and Outlook on exactly this topic. It talked about how Gresham-Barlow, Reynolds, Centennial, and David Douglas had all put aside money from the temp county income tax. This money will be used to keep the districts from having to make cuts. It is expected that they'll be able to get through to the beginning of the next state budget without having to make cuts.

    I'll have to flip through the papers I've kept and see if I still have them. It seems to me the stories ran within the last 3 months.

  • Lisa (unverified)

    Someone from Stand for Children or HOPE should weigh in here. These are groups who have been meeting to discuss solutions for a long time and here are some facts that I recieved from attending those meetings.

    PPS spends 6.1% on central administration, 13.8% on Buses, Buildings, and Food 6.4% on Principal and School Office and 73.6% for Teaching and Helping Kids.

    source: Oregon Department of Education is a good site for facts too.

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    Interesting numbers, as they don't match what PPS has in its documentation on its web site. I wonder if those numbers are a bit outdated-- the numbers I pulled were from PPS' most recent budget.

    I notice they lump together a lot in "teaching and helping kids." I prefer it when teachers/teacher aides/books/etc. are in one category with all the other staff (nurses, counselors, etc.) are in another category. Even better is when they give it a category heading (such as teaching and helping kids) and then list each item under it-- teachers, teachers aides, books & supplies, field trips, counselors, librarians, nurses, etc.-- and list how many staff members it covers. This gives a really good idea as to how much money is spent on each item.

    I've been involved in school-related issues for 15 years now-- more than half my life. I was attending school board meetings and regularly addressing the board at the age of 12. I ran for school board while I was a senior in high school. As such, education is near and dear to my heart. I'll likely run for the Gresham-Barlow school board in the coming years, as this is an issue that has always been important to me.

  • Lisa (unverified)

    Jenni -

    Excellent, I am happy to hear from people who are involved. Let's keep this topic going for the whole year. There are many ballot measures that are going to need to be discussed at length before they get voted on.

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    I'm happy to keep topics on education going. I've been trying to collect links with all kinds of resources so that I can add them to DFO's issue page.

    This will make it easier to point to the facts, numbers, and solutions that people/organizations are coming up with.

    I haven't been able to be as involved since moving to Oregon as I'd like, since I have a toddler and a husband who works the hours that meetings are typically held (in addition to some major health problems). However, I do try to keep up with news reports and such so I'll know what's going on.

  • Sid Leader (unverified)

    The answer is really rather simple:


    See you in court!

  • Gil Johnson (unverified)

    Robin wrote: "Can we inject some facts into this conversation?"

    Gill mentioned the QEM. "(the Quality Education Plan advanced by Lynn Lundquist and others)"

    The "Quality Education Model", having been thoroughly exposed for the totally baseless fabrication that it is, should never be used in any school funding discussion.

    It always helps, when condeming another person's comments for lack of facts, to use facts of your own. So, Robin, cite someting that's been published to support your comments above.

    It's beside the point, though. The QEM was intended as an ideal, the deluxe model of education. What I was seeking in my previous post is a definition of what constitutes a basic, no frills education that every child in Oregon should receive. We obviously can't arrive at this in a blog where most people are grinding their own axes or sniping at others.

    My point is this: we need to establish this basic platform for education not on dollars available, which is how the governor and the legislature do it now, but on some criteria. After the floor is established, citizens in the local school districts should have the discretion of raising additional funds for more programs, smaller class sizes, etc.

    I'm not sure this gets around the constitutional equalization problem, although essentially, that's what is happening now.

  • Robin (unverified)

    Gill followed up with "The QEM was intended as an ideal, the deluxe model of education"

    Wrong again Gill. You better bone up on the QEM. The QEM was intended to fabricate a model showing the need to add a billion dollars or so to the current funding levels. Nothing in the baseless QEM demonstrated that anything would happen but more spending on the dysfunctional, CIMCAM laden status quo with nothing "ideal" or "deluxe" coming out the other end at all.

    The QEM is a lie.

    The worst possible thing this state could have done is follow the QEM and throw more money away and get the same results.

    Gill obviously has never read the QEM or challenged it's thesis.

  • mrfearless47 (unverified)

    "As for Sid's comment about the consitutionality of sending out $150 million to other districts (actually, I thought it was around $400 million per biennium), I believe the idea is equalization of education funding throughout the state. Rich districts send funds to poor districts so that everyone (theoretically) has access to a similar education. Unequal education funding is what is unconstitutional."

    I think the equality argument is bogus. It assumes that it costs the same to educate students regardless of where they go to school. It has a nice sound to it - educational funding equalization - but the concept is flawed from the outset as per capita education costs are not equal from district to district, in the same way that housing costs, gas prices, and food costs are not equal from district to district.

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    The "equalization" doesn't make everyone's cost-per-student equal. There are some districts that are getting more than $11K per student-- with most of that money coming from other districts. At the same time, metro schools are doing with $4,000 less per student.

    Since they're not equaling out the cost-per-student, I don't understand how the state's "equalization" program works. Supposedly everyone is supposed to get the same amount per student, but that doesn't explain how metro area districts get just over $7,000/student while some rural areas have $11,000/student to spend.

    It also doesn't take into consideration cost-of-living differences between areas. So towns with higher cost-of-livings have to stretch every dollar, while those with lower cost-of-livings can afford extra programs, smaller class sizes, etc.

  • (Show?)

    Another assertion that has gone unchallenged is the whole "Master's Degree Parity" myth. This is an assumption that every student that achieves a certain level of education in any field is somehow deserving of the same money as people in other fields with the same degree. The corollary argument is that no one with lesser education "deserves" a similar income.

    The fact is that there are more and less rigorous majors. Some folks have a degree in nuclear physics, molecular biology, or computer science. Others have degrees in English Literature or Political Science. (And a bunch of us, degreed or not, spend a significant part of our lives on continuing our educations, formally or otherwise)


    There are huge differences in the rigor and workload, required to get these various degrees.


    As one of the "cows" mentioned by Jenni, I have had a lifetime of perfecting my skills in my profession as a layout welder/fabricator. The category for my career path is "semi-skilled labor", and the starting wage is still under $15.00 per hour, with a top end in the mid twenties..



    So very little sympathy for the "wage parity" idea, 'cause I resent and reject the "apples to cows" analogy. A lot of sympathy for an adequate pension/health package (however defined), which is parceled out to a whole lot of different public servants, not just teachers.

  • (Show?)

    The health care issue hasn't gotten enough attention here. As much as we talk about the education funding crisis, perhaps the biggest fiscal problem facing public schools is the same problem faced by other public employment sectors: the rising cost of benefits. The benefits for public employees have historically made up a bigger portion of their overall compensation package because their salaries are comparatively low. That's been the deal; the government won't pay you a lot, but it will take care of your health and retirement. Thus, when the cost of benefits rises sharply, the public employers take a relatively large hit to their overall labor costs. No surprise, then, that our education funding crisis coincides with double-digit inflation in the health care industry.

    In Portland, teachers have bargained for health care over salary. They have accepted salary freezes or very modest raises in exchange for receiving 100% health coverage, without caps, for themselves and their families. This has worked significantly to their advantage; I don't have data but I suspect that the district is worse off under this arrangement than it would have been if it capped health coverage and instead provided COLAs of a few percentage points. It probably doesn't feel like a great deal for the teachers either, since their compensation increases are going straight to the health insurers, but it is a compensation increase nonetheless. It also feeds voters' resentment and mistrust because they see costs and expenditures going up with no direct benefit to the classroom.

    If we could control health care costs so that they increased at no more than the general rate of inflation (instead of four or five times that rate), we would do much to control schools' labor costs and, therefore, resolve much of the education funding crisis in the state. This is only part of the solution (comprehensive tax reform being another part), but it's a critical part.

  • mrfearless47 (unverified)

    "If we could control health care costs so that they increased at no more than the general rate of inflation (instead of four or five times that rate), we would do much to control schools' labor costs and, therefore, resolve much of the education funding crisis in the state."

    To "control" health care costs would require that we do something about the massive increases in demand for health care. Medical consumers are demanding much more from the system than ever before and this drives up utilization of expensive technologies and treatments. Somebody pays those costs. Where my wife works (as a physician), they put in a single MRI scanner when she began working there in 1990. They now have 5 MRI scanners (at about $3 million each, not including physical plant), each running nearly 24x7. During that same period of time, the patient population increased by about 50%. Do the math and you'll see that increasing the number of patients by 50% has led to a 4-fold increase in the number of MRI scanners and scans (not to mention the number of radiologists required to read the scans and the technicians required to perform the scans). This is a really simple example of how health costs are spiralling out of control. Is the health care system to blame? Are health consumers to blame? Is technology to blame? Where would you suggest is a good place to start "controlling" health care costs?

  • Dan Newth (unverified)

    I am very impressed with the number of responses and energy this column has generated. If anyone is unhappy with the quality of Portland schools move to Beaverton. They pay a large amount of money to fund other school districts and still provide a relatively good education. If a parent is concerned with the quality of education studies show parental involvement to be the leading factor in a childs success. Much of the discussion about quality of education in public schools is led by people working within the system to line thier own pockets. I work in the non-profit sector, but as a volunteer. I am disillusioned by organizations who when faced with constricting budgets again and again choose to make cuts which short cut the mission. Teaching should be a calling, not a self-centered means to wealth.

  • Pedro (unverified)

    Teaching should be a calling, not a self-centered means to wealth.

    WOW Please post a list of those wealthy teachers so we will know who they are. I don't know many teachers, but none of those that I know are considered wealthy by any definition.

    Also please post a list of occupations that are (in your opinion) an acceptable self-centered means to wealth

    Then we would all like to know your line of work.

    Peace be with you Dan.

  • (Show?)

    Mr. Fearless: good question. We're now off topic, but before Kari reprimands us let me say that I don't have the answer, but I agree that overutilization is a huge (maybe the biggest) problem. That stems from the fact that consumers are insulated from the costs of what they're consuming (a $500 exam may cost them a $10 co-pay). That creates perverse incentives (why not get that second, third, or tenth opinion), drives up costs, and makes the market dysfunctional.

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    Yeah, let's not get off on solving America's health care problems (another post for another day).

    But, Chris is exactly right that our school funding problem is a health care financing problem.

    Regardless of the numbers, if school funding is roughly stable (or going up with basic wage & property value inflation) but health care costs are going up at 4-5 times that rate - well, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that eventually health care costs will consume 100% of the funding.

    Of course, before we get there, something is bound to change. Either we'll find more money for schools (to send to the health insurance companies) or America will deal with its health care financing mess.

    Something will happen. The only question is what.

    (This is, incidentally, the same problem faced by corporate America and the rest of the public and private sectors. It's why health care financing will be the #1 issue in the 2008 presidential election.)

  • Gayle (unverified)

    As I read through these postings, it seems as though a theme of frustration, confusion and despair abounds. So, I thought this may be the perfect moment to introduce a local, grassroots nonprofit called Schoolhouse Supplies, which is doing great work in support of Portland's Public Schools. I'll give a brief description and then encourage anyone interested to check out for more information.

    Of course, the core issue - the part that stirs our emotions and inspires each of us to take a play and activist role in issues affecting public schools is the kids whose education is being affected each day due to a lack of funding. For the 20,000 kids attending PPS whose families live at or below the poverty line, the $50 per child cost of even the most basic school supplies is out of reach. To compensate, dedicated teachers are spending an average of $600-$1,000 of their own money every year! This is ridiculous. This is why Schoolhouse Supplies opened its free store for teachers 6 years ago and why we continue to provide school supplies to classrooms in need at no cost to kids, teachers, strained school budgets or taxpayers.

    I apologize for this shameless plug and hope that you will find optimism and inspiration from the innovative free store program at Schoolhouse Supplies.

    And I look forward to meeting you, Kari, at the Schoolhouse Supplies Celebrity Spelling Bee on January 26th!

  • pdx dem (unverified)

    Lets start by repealling property tax breaks for wealthy individuals and companies that should pay their fair share.

  • Marvinlee (unverified)

    A positive thought about the existenced of funding austerity in a school district is that it sometimes generates creative, sustainable efficiency improvements of lasting value.

    The Chalkboard Project is promising a uniform, interactive, education budget presentation that will cover all Oregon school districts. If it is suitably comprehensive, this may become an excellent access point to understand and debate the numbers.

    As a taxpayer in an affluent area, I don't mind some of my education dollars going to less privileged areas. I would much rather help poor children to become prosperous adults than to later help poor adults who are often difficult to help. Retraining programs for adults have shown a problem of changing adult skills and abilities.

    The ending of the CIM/CAM experiment may open the door to more efficient use of education dollars. I believe than an Oregon School Boards Association study found a potential for millions of dollars of savings. Oregon might also benefit from reexamining its learning standards. The No Child Left Behind Act puts high pressure on meeting state standards, but leaves room for the states to change their standards.

    As a person without a shred of dental health care coverage, I am very thoughtful when I consider spending money on dentists. It is way cheaper to brush my teeth five times a day, rinse my mouth after eating out, use high-floride toothpaste, etc. Making public employees pay a higher deductable might lead to more efficient medical care, more money for direct take-home incomes, and little reduction in employee health.

    Finally, the five year teacher education requirement can be evaluated to determine if it is cost effective to require that for all grades, all subjects, and all years of high school. Perhaps some relaxation is possible without major learning penalties. A shorter time-to-teaching-degree would also help some minority and other low income students who now struggle to pay for five years of college.

  • cm (unverified)

    Health care costs are rising for a variety of reasons. Technology has contributed to the rise as well as the cost of medications and an aging population. But let's not forget that many afflictions are brought on by poor life style choices. (Such as not getting exercise and a fast food dependency.) If we gave schools a proper nutrition curriculum we might be able to help the next generation make more informed choices. Take a look also at what kids are fed in most school cafeterias.....lots of "brown" food which seems to say fast food is normal and good. Kids don't really know what healthy eating is. And when we provide for just 2 periods of p.e. a week we aren't doing much to promote exercise.

  • Tony Larson (unverified)

    Gil & others - I was asked to take a peek at this thread.

    There was an inquiry, regarding what current education program standards require. The Northwest Association of Accredited Schools is the regional accreditation authority. Their website contains the latest standards, leading to program accreditation. This is the basic education package. Please review, in tandem with, if not in advance of, any local option taxation discussion. The current report is found at:

    We would dissuade parties from attempting to reconcile the mismatched historical budget numbers from the Oregon Database Initiative website right now. For local information, in a consistently reported format, please review the Tax Supervising and Conservation Commission website. The 2004-2005 report is found at:

    Cheers !

    Tony Larson, former C&G Issue Committee Co-Chair for City Club and 6 year (??oof??) Chair of the Portland Public Schools Citizen Budget Review Committee

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)

    Everytime that school funding in Portland comes up, someone brings up the fact that the Portland area pays out more to the State than it gets back in taxes for schools. I have grown weary of this argument, as it is a false argument on a couple of levels. So, after doing a little research I offer the following -

    In the State of Oregon 15.60% of the population is in the public school system. In my area, in the Crook County School District, 15.60% of the population is enrolled in the public schools. But in the Districts in Multnomah County, only 11.75% of the population is enrolled in the public schools.

    Right there, just this one statistic, explains the "why" of how Portland pays out more than it gets back. There are less children per capita in Portland to take advantage of the school districts. There are conversely more tax payers per capita.

    I'm sure the same is true for other communities - King City comes to mind.

    So, point # 1 - Portland is part of the State, and get used to it. You pay out more for public education, but since Multnomah County was responsible for passing Measure 5 that made the State one pot of money for education - you have to live with it.

    Point # 2 - Life isn't fair

    In Crook County, we don't have much mass transit. We have a "Senior Bus" that gets some State/Federal funds, but no trains, or other bus service. Over in Multnomah and Washington Counties, we have a light rail system that used a lot of State and Federal Resources to get built. I am a citizen of Oregon, and I think mass transit in the Portland metro area is good for the State. It lessen's the brown cloud that blows my direction from Portland over the Cascade Mts. I might not get to ride MAX much (twice), but I'm glad it is there reducing auto traffic.

    But according to the formulation of those that decry the fact that Portland pays more into the State for education than it gets back, I should be up in arms protesting the fact that Crook Co. has no mass transit with State dollars. I paid my taxes, and got nothing back!!! (When looking at this one narrow category of State funding out of thousands of options.)

    Multnomah County has two State Universities (PSU, Health Sciences Center), a couple community colleges, a better funded ESD than mine, a port (air and water), etc. etc. that are not matched in my County. We don't have a Community College in Crook Co, nor a port, nor a University, etc. etc. -- Lots of my money goes to pay for things that happen in Portland / Multnomah Co. My tax dollars have even been known to pay for your zoo.

    So - on this whole argument about "fairness" of tax dollars, I could cry a river on how unfair it is here on just about every topic but schools.

    It's just a false argument.

    Now - as for the real problem of Portland's Schools being under funded - I suggest that the "system" is too big. I note that the other Districts in the Multnomah County area with less students seem to be doing better - David Douglas (9,500 students), Centennial (6,670 students), and Reynolds (10,500 students). Why not break up the monolith? What if Portland was broken out into three or four districts? The west side of the Willamette river has a couple of High Schools (Lincoln, Wilson); the north/northeast end has a couple (Roosevelt, Jefferson, Grant); the southeast has a few (Cleveland, Franklin), and perhaps an outer east with Madison - I don't remember the rest off of the top of my head, but you get the idea. Perhaps with smaller districts, a truly local school board, and more local oversight of the buildings and programs these communities within Portland could find the solutions that elude the larger system. The Portland School District, with 53,000 students is just too big.

    But that still doesn't solve the financial problems. Whatever that is, I hope it is a Statewide solution. One that works in Christmas Valley as well as Portland. We have under funded our State in so many ways, we have to look at new revenue one way or another.

  • Skip from Gresham (unverified)

    The idea of an income tax should make any Portlander shutter. Ever wonder why many of the outlying districts (including Vancouver) showed an unexpected spike in growth in students over the past two years while Portland continued to decline? The INCOME TAX made the move easy for families who were luke warm to the quality of PPS.

    The idea of a 10 year income tax being tossed around is a reckless idea. A new source of funding is it a local option property tax or a sales tax. A sales tax would be my choice...3% on everything but food and medicine. That would capture dollars from the suburbs on their visits into town for work and entertainment and avoid driving families out.

  • LT (unverified)

    Can't resist this crack:

    Some ideas make people SHUDDER.

    My brother's camera has a shutter.

    Other than that, I agree with the wise words of Steve B.

  • (Show?)

    So very little sympathy for the "wage parity" idea, 'cause I resent and reject the "apples to cows" analogy. A lot of sympathy for an adequate pension/health package (however defined), which is parceled out to a whole lot of different public servants, not just teachers.

    I wasn't calling people without masters degrees cows. If I was, I'd be one as well.

    What I was stating is that you can't compare the compensation of a group with master's degrees and a huge number of years worth of experience, collectively, with the general population of the state.

    In the general population of the state you have people with no h.s. degrees, people with no experience, people with no skills, no college at all, etc.

    The two groups are so far apart that apples and orangles don't work-- so I picked something else that was edible, but not a fruit-- cow is the first thing that came to mind.

  • (Show?)

    it took nearly 40 comments before i saw Measure 5 mentioned, and then by Steve from Crook County. prior to M5 (1994?), Portland & Eugene had excellent school systems, as did Corvallis and other larger communities. but M5, sold under the false banner of "school funding reform" but really Don McIntyre's ingenious scam to shift responsiblity for property taxes from business to home owners, began sucking money out of Portland & Eugene and sending it off to rural districts. the net result was that the metropolitan schools began a steady, slow decline while needed resources went to smaller districts in the hinterlands.

    the latter aid was desperately needed: districts with small, less prosperous populations deserve the same quality of education a rich district can afford. but to do so at the expense of bleeding Portland and Eugene was absolutely stupid. (and the property tax scam has done the opposite of what McIntrye and cronies lied about: where before M5 individuals paid one-third and business two-thirds of state property taxes, that ratio has been reversed; yet another reason i'm against the ballot measure).

    this thread has been built around blame: who do we blame, teachers or small counties or administrators? who is at fault here? (and blame is such a productive means of getting a quality solution to intractable problems; we should try it more often.) asking teachers to give up health care benefits is just wrong; they should be the standard to which we should all attain. these people are educating our kids and shaping the future of our state and country. they deserve above-average pay and benefits. Pat, i respect your work and may need it desperately one day -- but do you have my son in your care for a full year? will you influence his life as Mr Trepp and Ms Smith did mine 30 years ago? rather than compare you and a teacher so unfairly, let's compare the quality of life our society provides for both of you. you both contribute and use your skills fully; you both deserve full health care.

    until we fix the damage done by M5, we're going to be in real trouble. corporations need to pay their fair share. and we need to fix the state's economy, cuz it's still in sad shape. we have great teachers in this state, and i believe most of the administrators really care about their schools and are trying to provide quality education. attacking those who provide the "product" simply sucks our energies into useless paths of distraction. solutions lie elsewhere, and fixing M5's legacy is at the top of the list.

  • Skip from Gresham (unverified)

    t. a. imply that those nasty evil corporations were behind M5 and reaped all the benefit. It's an interesting FACT that virtually every major corporation in Oregon came out in opposition to M5 during the campaign. I just checked Oregonian archives to make sure I was remembering that correctly. It's true. In fact five of the biggest contributors to the NO on M5 were Willamette Industries, Nike, Lousiana Pacific, PGE, and NW Natural Gas.

    M5 passed becasue over a 15 year period property taxes had sky rocketed across the metropolitan area. It was Portland and to a lesser extent Salem and Eugene residents who guaranteed it's passage. The burden on middle income home owners had become to large and the legislatures of the era had repeatedly done nothing to address the problem. As usual, when state government fails to address a major problem, a bad initiative with hidden consequences gets passed by the people. It happens time and time again.

    We need to at least partially return to local financing of schools and the best possible approach at this juncture is a metro area sales tax.

  • Ruth Adkins (unverified)

    Great discussion, I am coming in late but just to toss in a few random thoughts:

    With due respect to those who feel they have to make this choice, moving to Beaverton or Clark County is not the answer. Somebody has to stay behind and make sure there are quality schools for the children that remain in Portland. Allowing the last great urban public school district in the country to go down the toilet is not an option. I've got three kids ages 8, 12, and 15 and we are not letting our schools go down without a fight.

    A lot of great ideas and insights on this thread. I have little hope for a statewide solution, even if the D's take back the House in '06(given how little they accomplished with the Senate and the gov'ship). I know it will only inflame anti-Portland feeling in some quarters, but I think a local option tax of some kind is Portland's only hope.

    An I-tax that is a lower rate than the current one, and is auto-deducted via payroll (no painful lump sum check to write) I think is a pretty good option. A key benefit is there isn't a double-majority requirement as I think there is with a property tax.

    While I definitely don't want to blame teachers or even administrators (bravo t.a. for your excellent post) I do agree that containing health care costs is a huge part of the equation.

    I'd really like to see City, County, & Metro govt working directly with PPS not just on local option funding solutions but on another key part of the solution: increasing affordable housing so that families can afford to live in Portland.

  • Garlynn (unverified)

    After a little bit of lurking on the sidelines of this discussion, I think it's time for me to wade in on three topics.

    First: About breaking up the Portland school district

    I was raised in SE Portland. I attended Meriwether Lewis Elementary School (near Woodstock Blvd.) from first through fourth grades (I went to the Helen Gordon Child Development Center at PSU for pre-school and kindergarten). After fourth grade, it was suggested that I needed to follow a more self-paced curriculum, such as that offered at the Metropolitan Learning Center magnet school across town, in N.W. Portland. So, I caught the bus across town (and later, rode my bike) to attend MLC from 5th through 10th grades. While there, I took drivers ed at Wilson High School, and some of my fellow students did dance at Jefferson, foreign language at Lincoln and science at Benson. If we had not been able to access the educational opportunities provided by the district as a whole, we would have received a poorer-quality education. Congruently, it cost the district less to provide a quality education with in-depth coverage in many subject areas for a large number of students, by spreading concentration in specific subject matters across the schools of the entire city & district. As a direct result of the quality education provided by PPS, I left high school after the 10th grade on an early-admissions scholarship to attend Simon's Rock College in Great Barrington, MA. (I returned after graduating with an Associates of Arts degree to receive my high school diploma a month later, and to enroll in PSU's geography department).

    In short: breaking up the Portland Public School district is not the answer. It's a great district. It should be a model for the nation. As a direct result of Measure 5, however, it is under-funded, and this needs to be fixed.

    Second: About the costs of health care As the legendary economist Paul Krugman has pointed out (, the health care crisis in America has been caused by the private/for-profit nature of the system. The only solution to this issue is to remove the profit motive from the health care system, and to instead focus on providing care as the primary motivation. Currently, a good portion of the expense of the health care system is due to the administrative costs of HMO and managed-care systems. These organizations largely exist to deny health care claims so as to reduce their expenses, according to Krugman's analysis. The solution is not rocket science, and indeed much of Western Europe and Canada is already there. Perhaps Oregon could lead the nation once again by following this model for health care?

    Third: About the total costs of the educational system

    You get what you pay for. If you want quality teachers providing the education for your children, you will agree to pay those teachers a quality, living wage. Teachers may be following a calling, but they may resist that calling if it does not allow them to purchase a home for themselves, feed their own children, and have a standard of living that is equitable to their neighbors. I don't think that any teacher in Oregon is over-paid.

    That's it for now.

    cheers, ~Garlynn

  • (Show?)


    You're right in that containing health care costs is part of the equation.

    Had Minnis allowed the bill to go through regarding the pooling of school employees' health insurance, we could have saved a lot of money. It only makes sense that by pooling the insurance into one large plan, as opposed to dozens of plans across the state, you'll get better rates. Hopefully it'll go through in the next session-- and all without a benefit decrease or increase in cost to teachers.

    It'd be interesting to look at the cost benefit of doing this for all state/county/local public employees.

  • (Show?)

    M5 was a scam from beginning to end; it's entire purpose was to reduce the amount of property taxes paid by business. it was sold as a combination of tax reform and school funding reform -- and if by "reform" you mean twisted beyond frankensteinian proportions, then reform we got. as i said, there's no better argument for getting rid of ballot measures than M5: those who opposed it benefitted greatly and those who supported it got screwed.

    i never used the word "evil". don mcintyre is a selfish, anti-oregon r.b., and anything with his backing should be put in a sack and drowned in the willamette. M5 did not fix the property tax problem; it exacerbated it -- gasoline on a roaring fire. today the corporations that once opposed M5 would fight like hell to preserve it -- and all the other special breaks they get that are tearing at the foundation of our state's infrastructure.

    and garlynn, thanks for bringing krugman into this. why our lives and health are a matter of corporate profit is beyond my understanding.

  • never enough (unverified)

    This is why there will never be enough money for education in this state and exactly the kind of thing any and all new funding will be used for.

  • mrfearless47 (unverified)

    "Currently, a good portion of the expense of the health care system is due to the administrative costs of HMO and managed-care systems. These organizations largely exist to deny health care claims so as to reduce their expenses, according to Krugman's analysis"

    While I generally subscribe to Krugman's analyses, I don't recall him ever saying anything as stupid as this. Think about it. If it were really true that "administrative costs to deny health care claims" were responsible for driving up the price of health care, we wouldn't have the problem of overutilization of health care. You can't simultaneously have overutilization be one of the biggest drivers of health costs while claiming that denying claims via administrative mechanisms is the main driver. It just doesn't make sense. While people may have had negative encounters with HMO or managed care organizations, I haven't encountered one yet that actually "managed care" in a way that decreased utilization. How do you explain a 400% increase in the number of MRI scanners and a 400% increase in utilization of same during a period where patient populations grew 50%? It doesn't sound much like "managed care" to me.

    I agree that health care costs are escalating faster than our ability to afford them, but suggesting that administration of health care is a key driver is as flawed as suggesting that administrative costs in education are responsible for the education crisis. This might have been true at one time, but it just ain't true today.

  • Brian Santo (unverified)

    We can't solve a national problem like health care (not in the near term, while our kids are moving through the school system), and that's going to limit what we can do about benefits, unless we want to simply negate contracts and punish teachers for having the foolishness to expect that contracts are binding, unless it's the state that wants to break them.

    We can address increasing revenue. Revenue is the problem. We have a dysfunctional tax system, one of the least stable in the country.

    The good folks at Citizens for Oregon's Future have already drafted a series of very sensible proposals, each with honest pros-and-cons.


  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)

    Responding to T.A. Barnhart – Measure 5 was in 1990.

    Crook County isn’t the “hinterlands”. I don’t know of any “hinterlands” in Oregon. Perhaps you are thinking of Australia.

    The smaller School Districts in Oregon did not “bleed dry” the large districts. We simply got – after a few court battles – the same funding level as the large districts. It is not our fault that the largest district in the State somehow cannot find an economy of scale. Apparently there are other forces at work that make "larger" more expensive - hence my suggestion that "smaller" might work better. Perhaps smaller Districts get better community participation that has a positive effect on the bottom line.

    You go on to comment about blame – after making these blaming comments about rural Oregon. Please go spend some time in front of a mirror.

    And bringing to the front a comment that you didn’t emphasize due to the other distracting elements of your post – corporations were the big winners with Measure 5 (whether they were for or against it doesn't matter anymore), continue to be the favorite of the Republican controlled Legislature, and except for the areas where Metro and the Port of Portland manage to levy more taxes, get off light in the overall tax scheme. In total contribution to local/State government – Corporations get really good treatment in Oregon. We should at the very least up the minimum tax paid by corporations and eliminate the kicker for Oregon corporations, or those doing business in Oregon.

    T.A. - I usually find your posts at least intelligent, if on topics that are of low interest to me. After this last comment of yours, I don't know whether I should shutter or shudder.

  • (Show?)


    Actually, they didn't get the same funding as the larger districts.

    The article that the Oregonian published in May shows that some small town districts are able to spend more than $11K per student-- Portland and other metro schools are somewhere between $7-8K. That is hardly the "same funding level"-- it's more.

    The "equalization" of funding also doesn't take into consideration the cost of living.

  • (Show?)

    Also, the Portland metro area gets more than its fair share of developmentally disabled, physically disabled, and mentally ill students.

    In part, that's due to the availability of non-school services (clinics, therapists, aides, etc.) in the Portland metro area.

    Just one of these students can cost as much as 4-5 non-special-needs students.

    No complaint here; but the funding should take that into account. (I believe that it does, but only somewhat.)

  • Marvinlee (unverified)

    T.A.Barnhart believes that "M5 was a scam from beginning to end; it's entire purpose was to reduce the amount of property taxes paid by business."

    One of those affected by the Pre-Measure 5 tax system was my widowed mother who saw her taxes rise six percent a year in Corvallis while her income rose by very little. One year of that was tolerable, but the tax increases came year after year. She simply had no personal financial capability to withstand the constantly rising cost.

    The final straw came when Corvallis chose to run a sewer line to the out-of-town airport. To help pay for the line, city officials taxed each property owner along the way for the new sewer line. Mother's tax came to $12,000 which coincidentally was very close to her lifetime savings. She was lucky to have children. Not all elderly homeowners are that lucky.

    Factually, Measure 5 did reduce personal property taxes, not just corporate taxes.

  • howard (unverified)

    Garlynn writes: "breaking up the Portland Public School district is not the answer. It's a great district. It should be a model for the nation."

    I would like to know how Garlynn defines "a great district" in view of underperforming clusters within PPS such as Jefferson and Marshall.

    Garlynn also writes: "You get what you pay for. If you want quality teachers providing the education for your children, you will agree to pay those teachers a quality, living wage."

    Don't teachers in PPS' underperforming clusters also make a 'quality, living wage"?

  • (Show?)

    mr fearless wrote:

    I agree that health care costs are escalating faster than our ability to afford them, but suggesting that administration of health care is a key driver is as flawed as suggesting that administrative costs in education are responsible for the education crisis.

    Two points here.

    1) Medicare has an overhead cost of 3%. Private insurance has an overhead cost of about 15-20%, so the vaunted effeciency of the private sector is once again shown not to work when alleged competitors are allowed to fix prices in the manner of a defacto monopoly. A true free market system would require.......well.....competition.

    2) My son-in-law is a senior editor for a magazine targeted to industry insiders. As I understand it, the prices seem to be fixed around how well the insurance firms have done investing your premiums in the stock market rather than any of the other factors around healthcare delivery.

  • s (unverified)
    (Show?) appears that a large majority of people contributing to this long and interesting string agree that some additional "local option" financing option is needed for PPS. Some would extend that local option across all of Multnomah county.

    I have three problems with the ten year income proposal now tax being discussed.

    1. It's regressive. Same flat rate across the board. It REALLY stings the average income household in April to write that check.

    2. It EXEMPTS all PERS pensions. This is a HUGE deal among the public and would be the most likely thing to defeat such a tax at the ballot box. It's also blatantly UNFAIR. My pension is not protected from future taxes passed by the electorate. Why should those receiving PERS be protected....especially when on average their pensions are far greater than mine.

    3. Such a tax ignited higher than projected flight from Multnomah country to the bordering counties over the past two years....a ten year income tax would increase that flight....for both residents and business. Can you envision a PPS district of 30,000 students? The budget gap resulting from an enrollment drop of that magnitide would be enormous.

    A METRO AREA SALES TAX DEDICATED TO SOLELY EDUCATION IS A VIABLE SELL TO THE VOTERS IN THE TRI COUNTY AREA. Exempt food and medicine and set it at around 3%. It would still be much lower than the sales tax in Clark county...and would provide MORE revenue for schools than the current or proposed income tax options.

  • mrfearless47 (unverified)

    Pat Ryan writes:

    "1) Medicare has an overhead cost of 3%. Private insurance has an overhead cost of about 15-20%, so the vaunted effeciency of the private sector is once again shown not to work when alleged competitors are allowed to fix prices in the manner of a defacto monopoly. A true free market system would require.......well.....competition.

    This is probably true, but you'd have a hard time attributing the increases in medical care costs exclusively to administrative inefficiency. And, although reimbursements to Medicare are not rising rapidly, Medicare costs are going through the roof. This gets back to the utilization issue.

    "2) My son-in-law is a senior editor for a magazine targeted to industry insiders. As I understand it, the prices seem to be fixed around how well the insurance firms have done investing your premiums in the stock market ... "

    To some extent this is true, but not for organizations that are (a) not publicly held (e.g. Kaiser, Sisters of Providence) and (b) not acting as a middleman between health consumers and health providers (e.g. Kaiser, Group Health). These organizations don't set premiums based on market returns; they base premiums on expected costs to deliver the care to a particular demographic. The physicians are paid on a per patient per month (capitated) basis and are have no incentives to deny needed care so long as the care is part of the provider agreement. Indeed, the reward system encourages doctors to keep patients healthy. Furthermore, they have no incentives to provide care just for the sake of billing the insurance company. There is, of course, the not-so-small element of defensive medicine, which effectively requires physicians to do unnecessary tests and procedures principally to guard against malpractice claims. Yet another subject.

    Sorry to stray off topic again, but the whole issue of health care costs just keeps sneaking back into this discussion of escalating educational costs. Since I'm in a household where one of us is a (retired) professional educator and the other is a physician, both of these topics are near and dear to us.

  • Garlynn (unverified)


    Your off-the-cuff analysis does make intutitive sense. However, I would steer you towards the following article, and in particular three paragraphs from the middle, which I have quoted below. Krugman's analysis is based on detailed work done by others pertaining to the details of HMO and health plan administration in this country and how it contributes to the high cost of health care. I agree with you that equipment and salary costs are also on the rise, and perhaps health care costs would still be putting other sectors of our society into crisis mode even if the administrative portions of those costs weren't grossly inflated. However, I think that the administrative portion of the costs is the low-hangign fruit in terms of reform, and I also think that Oregon has a very good chance & opportunity to lead the nation in providing this reform by forming a completely public in-state health care system that people can opt into to receive coverage. Starting by providing services to the public employees would create the customer base necessary to build a sustainable system that could be expanded to provide coverage to the rest of the population. Perhaps Kitzhaber should be the guy to lead this effort up, perhaps not; perhaps he could accomplish it without needing to be governor again, and perhaps not.

    Anyways, here is the info on Krugman and the quotes from his article:

    Health Economics 101 By Paul Krugman The New York Times Monday 14 November 2005

    "That's why insurance companies don't offer a standard health insurance policy, available to anyone willing to buy it. Instead, they devote a lot of effort and money to screening applicants, selling insurance only to those considered unlikely to have high costs, while rejecting those with pre-existing conditions or other indicators of high future expenses.

    "This screening process is the main reason private health insurers spend a much higher share of their revenue on administrative costs than do government insurance programs like Medicare, which doesn't try to screen anyone out. That is, private insurance companies spend large sums not on providing medical care, but on denying insurance to those who need it most.

    "What happens to those denied coverage? Citizens of advanced countries - the United States included - don't believe that their fellow citizens should be denied essential health care because they can't afford it. And this belief in social justice gets translated into action, however imperfectly. Some of those unable to get private health insurance are covered by Medicaid. Others receive "uncompensated" treatment, which ends up being paid for either by the government or by higher medical bills for the insured. So we have a huge private health care bureaucracy whose main purpose is, in effect, to pass the buck to taxpayers."

  • Garlynn (unverified)

    Howard writes:

    I would like to know how Garlynn defines "a great district" in view of underperforming clusters within PPS such as Jefferson and Marshall.

    I mean great district in the holistic sense of the word. It's a great district, full of opportunities for those students who have the initiative to go out there and take advantage of them. Sure, there are plenty of bad apples in the barrel -- but that doesn't mean that the district is broken. It provided me and many of my friends with a top-notch public education, one that is in many ways superior to that provided by many private schools. It contains the best high school west of the Mississippi. The fact that it has a magnet-based high school system is an incredible asset to its students. If some of the magnets are stronger than others, then the focus should be on the underperforming magnets, not on the system as a whole. Sure, throwing more money at the problem without a plan to spend it won't fix it. I would be very surprised if the extremely capable people within the system couldn't come up with a visionary plan to fix the broken parts of the system if they had adequate funding.

    Don't teachers in PPS' underperforming clusters also make a 'quality, living wage"?

    Yes, they do. And I wouldn't want it any other way. Having to not only put up with, but educate, lead and inspire underperforming kids has got to be a very stressful and demanding occupation!! Also, anybody who argues that Portland's teachers make too much money, or that Portland's district spends too much money, compared to other areas of the state -- isn't quite familiar with the economics. How much does it cost to buy a single-family house in Crook County? OK, how much does it cost to buy a single-family house in inner SE, NE or NW Portland? What's the total difference between a basket of goods in those two locations, just for instance? Obviously, it will be significant.

    Finally, lest I be branded a tax-and-spend liberal: I don't necessarily think that the ultimate solution is to just get more money to throw at the school system. However, this must be part of the solution. There is a certain cost of doing business involved in running a school system, and this cost must be balanced by revenue of some variety (taxes, in this case). If there is no balance, the system will fail. The kids are the future of the state. If the state wants a prosperous future, it must provide a quality education for its children that prepares them for it.

  • (Show?)

    before M5, business paid 2/3 of property tax in Oregon; homeowners paid 1/3. of course, for many homeowners, particularly those on fixed incomes, those taxes were growing unbearable. but after M5, the ratio switched. and here's part of what happened: homes got re-assessed. assessment that had been untouched for years got a new look. as a result, while the rate of went down, the amount went up. meanwhile, as businesses run away from their tax responsibility, the state slides downhill. step 1 to fixing M5, therefore, is to take care of some of the more egregious tax breaks big businesses get -- and that means getting rid of Minnis (funny how we always end up back here). i am confident that a legislature led by kate brown & jeff merkely will do what's necessary to address these issues.

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)

    Jenni -

    RE: Your comment about revenue per student, etc. Portland getting $7,000 to $8,000, "small town districts" getting up to $11,000.

    Those figures are highly subject to not being apple to apple comparisons. For example, the State funds busing. My school district is a lot larger than a "small town district", being about 3,000 square miles - so when the High School Students from Paulina come into the High School in Prineville, they are doing over 100 miles per round trip - daily. There are also issues about funding for ESL and other special categories.

    The fact is that the main per student rate is the same in urban/rural, and in fact this argument you advance doesn't explain a core issue I brought up --

    How come Portland struggles so much when Reynolds, David Douglas, and Centennial don't? I understand "urban poverty" having grown up on Commercial Street 4 blocks north of Jefferson HS, but really those other districts in Multnomah Co. have many poor, disabled, etc. etc too. It's not retirement/PERS - they all pay that. The heating bill ought to be the same - its the same area. Cost of supplies ought to be the same. What is it about Portland Schools that costs so much?? I really don't know the answer, but my gut feeling is that there are too many layers of administration. -- And you reduce Administration by having mid-sized Districts from what I can see.

    Anyway - Jenni - even if Portland gets less money (and I suspect that per student income for Portland is higher than you think), that is the decision that Portland made for the State (Measure 5). If there was ever proof that the initiative petition process tends to be short sighted and perhaps needs tweaking - Measure 5 is it. But that is a subject for another day.

  • (Show?)


    I was just pointing out that the amounts districts are getting "per student" are not equal-- some districts are getting as much as $11K per student while others are getting just over $7K.

    From what I'd heard, the Portland area districts were getting between $7-8K each.

    Yes, the amount does pay for busing. However, when it doesn't look at is the cost of living in areas around the state. Or the amount it actually takes to educate a student in one area of the state as opposed to the other.

    From the Oregonian:

    The state aims to deliver roughly the same amount of money per student to every district. Its system of funding schools casts state government in the role of Robin Hood, taking money from communities with a hefty tax base to bolster schools elsewhere. As a result, two-thirds of Oregon students attend districts that spent close to the state average of $7,200 per pupil last year, the newspaper found. But some parents and educators in the Portland area question whether equal dollars add up to equal education. Higher costs for teacher salaries and school operations in metropolitan areas translate to big classes. Class sizes in Portland's suburbs are significantly higher than in most rural schools. One-third of Oregon students attend districts that spent well above or below the state average last year. The main exception to equal funding: About 50 small rural districts get hefty subsidies enabling them to spend $10,000 or more per pupil. Those high per-pupil costs, incurred mainly in rural Eastern Oregon, are paid chiefly by taxpayers in the Portland area, Bend, Corvallis and communities on the north coast. Sheryl Douglass was raised in Multnomah County, which exports the most tax money to subsidize rural schools, but now teaches in Malheur County, one of the biggest beneficiaries of equalization. Her Eastern Oregon district, in a farming town near the Idaho border, last year spent $11,300 per student -- nearly all of it imported.

    I plan on purchasing the rest of the article tonight when my husband gets home. There was an authorized charge on my card, which means I can't use mine until I get a new one in the mail next week.

    But I'm not defending PPS. I live in Gresham-Barlow, which is also not seeing the problems that PPS is.

    I've been trying to get through PPS' info to see the actual amount they spend in administration. According to their numbers, they spend 0.8% more in Central Admin than Gresham-Barlow. But their school admin information is hidden under "school support" and "building support." Other districts show this information as "school admin."

    Having watched as PPS hired additional administrators last year as they laid off teachers, I would not be surprised to see that admin costs were part of the problem.

  • Guy (unverified)


    Along the lines of your statements, why should I as an "urban denizen" of Multnomah County subsidize rural counties through farm subsidies(federal taxes) and other programs such as Rural Business Opportunity Grant Program (RBOG), Rural Health Clinics, and a host of other programs designed to benefit people who live in rural areas. Although this data may be a little old, check out this website:

    I for one, would be most happy for you to stop contributing to TriMet, the zoo, PSU, OHSU,etc. with your tax dollars in exchange for my not having to contribute to the net outflow of dollars to rural counties.

  • (Show?)

    Vermont passed a school funding reform when Dean was Governor:

    1. Collect the revenue.
    2. Divide by the number of students. Factor in special needs, bilingual, etc. Come up with x = the per-student rate.
    3. Allocate to schools based on number of students.
    4. Allow individual districts to pass local options, hold bake sales, or do whatever to augment that money.

    If I remember correctly, there was a lot of crying when this plan first went out, but eventually, everybody adjusted. I think they even found out that test scores standardized across all districts, as poorer districts had more money than usual, and richer districts eventually supplemented their budgets enough to afford the traditional but extra things like extra sports, band, etc.

    Why couldn't that work in Oregon?

  • Sarah Carlin Ames (unverified)

    Glad to see such a good debate. From my desk at Portland Public Schools I'll throw out just a few points in response to the many previous posts:

    ADMINISTRATION COSTS. At PPS we have been sticking with the state's database initiative to categorize our spending. Under their definitions, 73.4 percent is spent on teachers, textbooks and class supplies, school staff and support (librarians, extra-curriculars, counselors, principals). Another 15 percent goes for school buses, utilities, cleaning and maintenance, printing, purchasing and technology services. Central Administration costs just under 4 percent, and the rest is used to make debt payments and to set aside reserves/contingency. (The Chalkboard Project and partners have set different definitions, and include more technology support in Central Admin, bringing it to about 6 percent, so that's why you'll see that figure. Either way it's a heck of a lot less than the 30 percent the public assumes.)

    Superintendent Phillips did create three new positions in to help with professional development for teachers and to work on improved curriculum in early childhood and secondary education. Those are the jobs Jenny Simonis mentioned. . . but the Superintendent continued to cut back on central administration and services, with $9 million cut there and $16 million cut from teaching staff in the schools. Nobody liked making the cuts (caused by the end of the local option property tax voters approved five years ago), but teachers were NOT the first to feel the cuts.

    PROPERTY TAXES. All you property owners should have seen a significant drop in your property tax bills this fall. Portland schools taxes dropped 30 percent from last year . . . as the local option tax expired, and the capital bond levy (which paid for Forest Park Elementary, and major repairs and improvements district-wide) ended.

    HEALTH CARE. Obviously a larger topic, but Portland Public Schools is spending almost $38 million General Fund this year on health care coverage. The School Board and administration have worked hard to rein in health care costs -- and all employees now pay part of their health benefits. In fact, district costs for health coverage this year are $4 million LESS than the spending last year.

    PERS. Continues to be a major cost for PPS, and all school districts (and government agencies) statewide. It's controlled by the state -- the PERS Board and Legislature -- and Portland schools can't do much about it. However, we did refinance our long term liability under PERS (to keep rates from escalating as fast as the PERS Board would have raised them), and are saving well over $10 million this year.

    PORTLAND COSTS. There are a few factors why it might cost more to run schools in Portland than in some other districts. Growing districts hire new (and lower-paid) teachers, and on average spend less per teacher. With declining enrollment, we have a more experienced teaching staff, and 60 percent are in the top of the seniority pay scale. Although Portlanders love their small neighborhood schools (witness the fights over closures last spring), having 300 kids in a building built for 400-500 means you're heating a lot of empty rooms and maintaining a lot more buildings. Beaverton has far more kids per building (and newer, more energy-efficient buildings, by and large, too). Our buildings are old. The oldest is pushing 100, and on average they're over 60 years old (just about as old as the Baby Boomers). They cost more to heat and to maintain. There are other factors -- the high-cost special needs kids coming to Portland for medical services, the need to pay employees in line with the metro area's cost of living -- but the ones above are some of the biggies.

    FUTURE BUDGET. Next year, when the local income tax is gone, Portland will lose $50 million in funding. General Fund revenue will have gone from $392 million in 04-05 to $329 million in 06-07. All debate about administrative costs and health care spending aside, that is a HUGE drop in the budget. And that's why Mayor Potter, our allies in the community, fellow school districts and our School Board will be presenting voters with some sort of funding measure this May.

    My own New Year's resolution is to do better at explaining our PPS finances to the public. If you'd like to get our email updates on the budget and other issues, shoot me a line:

    [email protected]

    I'll also post more of this info on the district website soon:<la>

    Thanks for caring about our schools!


  • Tony Larson (unverified)

    Never a reason for anecdotes, regarding how much each district differs in the receipt of State School Fund revenues. The revised State School Fund estimates were released December 2, and are found at:

    Page 145 of this .pdf file, regarding Portland Public Schools (PPS), demonstrates that PPS does, in fact, maintain a more experienced teaching staff. Without getting into breaking down the data further, with resort to scattergramming or other methodologies,.. the data shows that PPS teachers average 13.61 years of service, as opposed to the statewide average of 12.84.

    Amongst a great deal of highly valuable data,.. the report makes for a great "one stop shopping" opportunity for illustrating the differences in student populations statewide. Data is disaggregated by: 1) ADMr, 2) ESL, 3) IEP - above and below the 11% cap, 4) Pregnant & Parenting, 5) Poverty, 6) Foster Care or Neglected/Delinquent, 7) remote small school correction and 8) non remote small high school correction. State transportation grants are also posted.

    Oregon's method of funding students on IEP's (Special Education, sic.) is outdated. A multi-tiered manner of identification, based on severity of disability, might provide a continuum of extra formula weighting that would more closely track the true costs of providing a "free and appropriate public education" to our vulnerable special needs populations and reimburse districts based on student characteristics more closely. Children from all across the state would benefit, as resources would follow identifiable criteria. Further, as the Portland metro area maintains a critical mass of medical and social resources that draws special needs families from all over the state,.. Portland Public Schools would be a beneficiary of such a structural reform.

    Also, I get nervous of anecdotes, regarding "hidden" or mis-identified employees/administrators. All districts follow a very modern chart of accounts, and work hard to ensure that "apples to apples" comparisons are readily available,.. even while pointing out their particular/special circumstances that effect their ability to deliver education services in their own localities. The only minor fudging I've been able to identify, might,.. for example,.. relate to a situation where specialized staff/administrator is divided among a number of cost centers in an attempt to reflect their true functions/time allotments. In one district, a Chief Budget Clerk might be divided amongst specialized, budget office and accounting cost centers,.. while in another they might peg that position to only one cost center. I've yet to see an actual attempt to deceive, while acknowledging that management practices absolutely require the ability to resource share human resources across cost centers flexibly.

    For some measure of assistance/reassurance, please see the current state chart of accounts/Program Budgeting and Accounting Manual found at:

    If anyone feels that a district is playing fast and loose with staff placement (for accounting purposes), feel free to contact a district's budget office, various budget review committees or elected Finance Committee/Board leaderships.

    Some major differences in total revenues divided by ADMr/w,.. are usually attributed to local funding not accounted for in judging local resources for state school fund purposes, local option levys in effect or ongoing capital improvement bond resources. To be clear, local income taxes do not count against Portland area districts,.. for purposes of establishing the state school fund grants. But that could change.


  • howard (unverified)


    It is your contention that, when rationalized holistically, PPS is a "great district" because it provided you and many of your friends with a top-notch public education because you had the initiative to take advantage of the district's offerings while the "bad apples" who did not display similar "initiative" fell behind or dropped out. Your rationalization did not convince me that PPS is a "great district".

    I believe that public schools should honor the dream of Thomas Jefferson when he said: "We must dream of an aristocracy of achievement arising out of a democracy of opportunity" and of Horace Mann, the noted 19th century educator who believed that public schools were supposed to "serve as the great equalizer". Mann believed that in order to give all students a chance to achieve and do well in life, public schools had to be "common schools"; schools which educate both disadvantaged and advantaged children under one roof. Separate schools for poor and working-class kids on the one hand, and middle-class and wealthy children on the other, are inherently unequal, he believed.

    The PPS district's top priority should be to provide quality educations for children whose parents can not or will not educate them. That was the reason for establishing Common public schools .

  • (Show?)

    Under their definitions, 73.4 percent is spent on teachers, textbooks and class supplies, school staff and support (librarians, extra-curriculars, counselors, principals).

    Here's one of the problems-- positions that would be classified by other districts as "school admin" (which is separate from central admin) are lumped in here with spending on teachers, textbooks, and class supplies. That helps PPS to boost their percentage and make it look like more is spent on the schools.

    The Chalkboard Project and partners have set different definitions, and include more technology support in Central Admin, bringing it to about 6 percent, so that's why you'll see that figure.

    I think they do it fairly-- printing, purchasing, and tech support shouldn't really be lumped in with maintenance, utilities, and transportation. In a business, these expenses would be included in administrative costs.

  • (Show?)

    Boy, it sure would be nice to get the bold/italics turned off. Guess I should have used quotes...

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)

    John wrote, "Along the lines of your statements, why should I as an "urban denizen" of Multnomah County subsidize rural counties through farm subsidies(federal taxes) and other programs such as Rural Business Opportunity Grant Program (RBOG), Rural Health Clinics, and a host of other programs designed to benefit people who live in rural areas.

    Interesting if misinformed point. There are lots of "subsidy" payments for lots of things - urban and rural. I'm glad you mention rural health - the subsidy for "urban" health is at a higher rate that rural health, and that is one of my bones to pick with my Congressional Representative Greg Walden. While representing the fourth largest Congressional District in the US, obviously rural, Walden voted against an amendment by Democrats to make the Rural Health Care subsidy equal to the urban subsidy, and then more recently voted for a cut in funding for rural health care.

    And food is another interesting one - If we don't keep the American food production going, we are going to import more food, of questionable quality. Those subsidies that you seem to think help the farmer only actually keep your food costs lower. So, who benefits more? Well, there are a lot more urban food eaters than rural food eaters (now that was a funny line to write!) - So, unless you want to give up on eating food, think again.

    As for the Business grants - some of those are to offset losses to rural businesses caused by government regulations - but by in large there are more urban business grants than rural. Local governments are forgiving property tax and giving other incentives to attract local business all over the State - that is not just a rural program, only a rural part of a much larger system.

    The problem is - there are tons of grants, subsidy programs, and tax benefits all over the place - but only a few of them apply to rural places. Unfortunately, the rural ones often are labeled "rural" and the urban ones rarely mention "urban" in the title.

    I suppose that this in part all comes down to how you think about numbers. Crook County is about twice the size of Multnomah County. We have more State road miles per capita than Multnomah County if you want to run a stupid statistic like that -- what does it mean? Doesn't doesn't mean anything. Governments give out Billions and Billions of dollars in various grants and payments. A few million come here - what does that mean? That is just how the world works right now.

    Here's an example for you that you don't know enough to bring up - PILT. That is Payment in lieu of Taxes. One could look at the Federal PILT program, which pays lots of money to rural Counties, and scream that it is unfair to urban places because urban places don't get any PILT money from the Federal government. Of course they don't. Urban places don't have national forests that use local resources but don't pay property taxes. (The Federal Government does not pay taxes for its land to the County or State.) We have Federal employees living in Federal housing with children that go to local schools. As they pay no property taxes, our schools are unfunded for those children. So, it is only "fair" that the Fed's pay PILT. The national forests obtain income from the sales of trees, which are shipped out by way of County and State highways. As we support the infrastructure of roads, it is only fair that the Fed's pay PILT for that infrastructure. Is it fair to urban Counties that they don't get PILT? Of course.

    Anyway, this urban/rural thing that the urban folks keep bringing up is just not factually based. In the larger scheme of things the urban areas are literally and figuratively feed by the efforts of folks in rural areas. One part of government, that the urban folks created (Measure 5), causes Portland/Multnomah County to pay out more tax dollars in that category (education) than they get back. On the other end, there are a huge number of areas that rural folks pay into that we don't directly see anything back on. But you know what - that is part of being a State. You "help" us with education, we "help" you with light rail.

    This business of looking at the rural areas as the "problem" because we get some of the States money is just nonsense.

  • howard (unverified)

    t. a. barnhart:

    I do not buy your assertion: "before M5 individuals paid one-third and business two-thirds of state property taxes," Can you validate this statement?

    I also have a difference of opinion with regard to "asking teachers to give up health care benefits is just wrong". As I see it, health care benefits are subject to negotiation each time a district negotiates a new collective bargaining agreement (Including a wages and benefits package.) with its teachers. If the cost of teacher health care benefits is rising by 8% a year, the district would be remiss if it did not ask teachers to share a portion of those cost increases. And that bargaining should be referrec to as "cost-sharing" as opposed to "give-backs".

  • mrfearless47 (unverified)


    One other question, in addition to Howard's. What evidence do you have that homes were reassessed immediately after M5? I've gone back to my property tax statements immediately before and after M5 went into effect. My property value did not change significantly after M5. What M5 did was to reduce the millage rate, which had the net effect of reducing the taxes without reducing the assessed value of the property. My house was valued at 178K in 1989, 180K in 1990, and 181K in 1991. What happened was that my taxes dropped significantly from 1990 to 1991 exclusively because of M5.

  • Tony Larson (unverified)

    Hi Jenni - Just ran into someone, who indicated that I didn't respond to your post about Chalkboard's numbers vs. Portland's number for Central Admin vs. School Admin. You have my apologies. I had lost track of this thread. If I understand you correctly, you've identified one of the problems,.. folks using one dataset to compare to a different dataset.

    So using one common set of definitions,.. sayyy from ODE.. and a common set of reporting requirements.. ODE data indicates the following, as related to the staffing of the five largest districts in the state (2004-2005):

    Central Administrators, as a percentage of total staffing, averages 1.2% statewide, while Big 5 districts report: Portland (0.30%), Salem Keizer (0.70%), Beaverton (0.80%), Hillsboro (1.2%) & Eugene (1.6%).

    School Administrators, as a percentage of total staffing, averages 2.80% statewide, while Big 5 districts report: Portland (2.90%), Salem Keizer (2.50%), Beaverton (2.30%), Hillsboro (2.40%) and Eugene (3.10%).

    Hope this helps !

    Highest regards,..

    -Tony Larson

  • (Show?)

    As a percent of staff isn't a very good number to work with, as you're thowing in all staff-- from the superintendent to the cafeteria workers.

    What we want to see are numbers regarding the % of the budget that goes to central admin and to school admin (principals, admin asst, front office secretary, etc.).

    Maybe some kind of standard needs to be set so that the state can look from district to district and see what is being spent on each area.

  • Tony Larson (unverified)

    Oh oh oh.. I think I understand. Alrighty then:

    OK - BUDGETS, 2005-2006, as consistently gathered and reported for ODE-DBI, for general fund expenditures only,.. and we'll use Function Codes 2320 (Executive Administration Services) and 2410 (Office of the Principal Services). The above link will lead you to the datasets that will allow a party to group Funds/Functions/Objects consistently, however desired.

    Data is General Fund Expenditures for the Function, as a percentage of the General Fund as a whole.

    Executive Administration Services (2320): Portland 1J: 0.74% Salem Keizer 48J: 0.36% Beaverton 48J: 0.48% Hillsboro 1J: 0.71% Eugene 4J: 1.04%

    Office of the Principal Services (2410): Portland 1J: 6.08% Salem Keizer 48J: 7.04% Beaverton 48J: 6.31% Hillsboro 1J: 6.57% Eugene 4J: 7.77%

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