Portland (OR) Public School District - Cornering the Market on Fiscal Insanity

Portland Public School District is floating two measures on May’s special ballot which, if passed, will have a devastating effect on our already depressed market. Moreover, these remodeling bonds will do nothing to fix the problems of increasing class sizes, our tragic high school dropout rate and our 43rd rank among states in classroom performance.

Cascade Policy Institue gives a scathing review of the scope of this project:

The District argues that such an expensive bond, the largest local bond in Oregon state history, is necessary to tear down and rebuild only eight of the 85 schools in the District. For those eight schools, they have allocated $372 million. The other $176 million is earmarked for minor upgrades to other schools and paying off previous school improvement debt that the District has incurred. The goal? The District argues that the new schools will increase property values in Portland, improve student achievement and behavior and increase enrollment. But in this down economy, are Portland residents getting the biggest bang for their buck when it comes to the cost value of these “rebuild” schools?

The article has more good news for homeowners and renters in Portland:

Whether you own your home or rent a house or apartment, every Portland resident will pay for this Bond through property tax increases or rent increases. Approximately 60% of Portland residents are homeowners, and 40% are renters. Thus, a big chunk of this bond measure likely will be paid for by renters, as landlords pass on their new tax burdens in the form of rent increases. PPS claims that the additional tax burden on homeowners will average about $350 per year for the next six years. But remember, this is just phase one. PPS wants to completely rebuild all 85 schools in the District within the next 30 years, which means your increased tax burden will remain, if not increase further, over the next three decades.

Now, the increase of $350 per year on average property tax is bad, but this is the conservative estimate from PPS. Other analyses put the average cost anywhere from $400 per year to as much as $1000 per year.

In the worst recession in most of our lifetimes, who can afford to pay 20% more in property taxes??

Perhaps most insidiously, Portland City Council couldn’t even wait to pass the bond before making backroom deals. The Council and PPS have already tentatively agreed to divert $5 million from this measure to repair streets near schools – before the measure is approved by voters. How does this backroom deal help our children achieve or reduce class sizes? This will only further the culture of financial mismanagement in our city.

The insanity isn’t over. Would you believe that we already have enough property tax revenue to fund the proposed renovation plan? The Oregonian reported on Nov 21, 2010 about City Council’s plan to divert $345 million from Multnomah County Property Tax into a new Urban Renewal District – at the cost of $1 million per acre. According to the article, “this would come at a multi-million dollar cost to … financially strained Multnomah County … and Portland Public Schools.” This will increase the limit on property taxes diverted to the Portland Development Commission (read: urban renewal slush fund) from $700 Million to a cool BILLION. They’ll siphon off $300 million more that could go to schools for the new Central Urban Renewal District. About one third of our property tax dollars go to K-12 education. Far from solving the real problems in our failing public schools, diverting these funds actually means even shorter school years, larger class sizes and lower achievement.

These bonds increase individual property taxes by $400 to $1000. Homeowners will pay upwards of $80 per month extra. Renters will see costs go up. Not one single class will have its student – teacher ratio reduced. Not one single child will graduate who wouldn’t have without the money. In a state with persistent unemployment over 10%, this bond makes no sense.

We already have enough money to rebuild our schools. What we lack is the political courage and willpower to fix the fundamental problems that have made our schools a national joke.

Be fiscally responsible and Vote NO on Measure 26-121 and 26-122, the Bloated and Unnecessary Portland Public Schools Bonds.

Jeffery Reynolds, Chairman

Multnomah County GOP – Home of the Fiscal Conservative