Word is, Portland Public Schools wants as much as $1.4 billion for a facilities bond. When I served on the PPS board, and we went out for the last (and much smaller) bond, I used to say on the stump that the average school building in the District was ten years older than I am, and I was falling apart. The better part of a decade later neither the schools nor I are in much better shape.
That having been said, unless there are significant changes between now and November, I will be voting NO on a PPS facilities bond.
My reasons are simple, and do not include my ability to pay the additional taxes, although, between the Sam Adams street tax, the presumed PPS bond and the presumed PCC bond (to pay for expansion of an entity that has lost 1/4 of its attendance!), my taxes will rise at least $600 in 2009. I am a Portlander and Portlanders, as a rule, are not tax averse. 27% of the taxes on my bill last year were ones voted on by the people, and I voted for them all. No, I will vote against the bond because the current Portland School Board simply has not shown the political will to make tough choices in school closure and building sales, and when you run an operation with far too many buildings in operation and far more than needed as cost-incurring surplus, please don’t come to me crying for cash for buildings.
The school population has shrunk from 54,000 in 1995, the year I went on the Board, to 46,000 today. That’s 15% fewer students. In that time, PPS has closed several elementary schools, but not 15%. It closed only one of 17 middle schools (6%). And high schools? Fuggedaboutit! School closure’s a tough thing to do, particularly, as I have written before on Blue Oregon, when the only logical choice is Jefferson – a school now with only 707 kids (Grant is two and a half times as large); five principals in three years; a history of countless shifts of deck chairs on the Titanic, none of which attracted any new students, and a record of bringing more politicians than successful education programs into the building. But the cry from community elders – none of whom has a child at Jeff – keeps open this "historically Black" school even as it fails Black students at twice the cost of teaching students even in low-income, heavily minority Marshall and Roosevelt.
Not only has the board not done a responsible job of closures, it has done an unconscionably bad job of demanding the District actually sell or lease closed schools. Schools sit vacant and vandalized or are partly filled with a handful of administrators, who then require a full building’s heat and electricity. Other buildings are left unleased because, according to PPS facilities director Bryan Winchester it would be a "tug of the heartstrings" to have to reclaim a building from a nice group of non-profit folks.
To this I say: "wake up!" Progressives believe in government, but when government officials undermine us with such poor fiscal decision-making, they provide fodder for conservatives and the Limbaugh clones. Believing in government does not exempt us from requiring it to be efficient for taxpayers, many of whom are working poor and whose property taxes are, in essence, a mandated repurchase of their single major asset. Keep one or two facilities for use while others are remodeled, but otherwise, get real! This process is nearing a decade old now, and simple has to lived up to the expectations of those who started it: the 1997-2001 Board.
I for one do not wish to pay to refurbish a building that, as a taxpayer, I should no longer own. I do not wish to pay to maintain failed programs such as Jefferson, because no one has the guts to "means test" the program delivered or the lack of customer interest in the product.
There is a limit to taxation, and I’d hate to have the voters hit their limit on something meaningful, needed and cost-effective. Safe buildings for our kids is meaningful, and it is needed. But until current PPS leadership learns to lead, and learns to make truly difficult choices that they volunteered to make, I will not assist them in taking the easy way out simply by saying to the voters "Please, sir, may I have some more?"