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Levy doesn't address larger issue of school funding

The Beaverton School District is again requesting additional funding with Measure 34-204, a local option levy. Only this time, it has upped the ante by increasing the levy from $1 to $1.25 per $1,000 assessed property value. That’s a whopping 25 percent increase for a repeat request that failed just a short 18 months ago. This levy will increase property taxes by $288 per year based on a Beaverton home assessed at the median value of $233,000.

Does the district really feel that taxpayers have experienced a bonanza of increased disposable income to afford an even more expensive levy?

Let us step back a moment and review this in a broader perspective. We, the citizens of Oregon, have legislated that the state shall maintain the primary role in public education. We citizens have supported this most important function by allowing ourselves to be taxed at the state and local level. We trust our governing officials that the funds will be well spent and our education system will be of high quality. However, it appears we have drifted from that mandate.

We are in an education crisis. In order to meet budget constraints due to our ongoing economic situation and ever increasing costs to fund public education, teachers have been laid off. The immediate result: Overcrowding in our classrooms. Potential long-term result: Reduced quality of education. Not a good thing to do for our children who in a few short years will be competing for jobs in a competitive global economy.

Collectively, we are all responsible for this crisis. How?

Our governor, the self-proclaimed education governor, is looking for happiness in Asia while not projecting strong leadership to address the education crises. Every moment not engaged in correcting this problem is a moment lost. Mr. Governor, what’s more important? A field trip for you and no field trips for our students?

Our state legislators have failed to address long-term funding for public instruction since Measures 5 and 50 placed the larger burden of school funding at the state level. They have exacerbated the problem by promising a retirement system that is simply not sustainable. They have not addressed our state tax system that would moderate the extremes of revenues. Promises made but promises not kept. Legislators, what’s more important? Funding windmills and thus allowing our students to drift in the wind?

Our school administrators have allowed an ever expansion of annual budgets to increase at a rate that is not prudent for any entity. With the knowledge of the impact of Measures 5 and 50, our volatile tax system and the lack of stable funding from Salem, they have agreed to wages and benefits (86 percent of budget) that have put themselves in a box. And, to make matters worse, the contractual constraints for represented employees doesn’t give them much room to revise compensation down during difficult economic times. The only recourse is to lay off teachers. Administrators, what’s more important? Making unsustainable wage and benefit promises that result in reduced benefit promises for your students?

Our teachers have collectively placed themselves one step removed from education by allowing themselves to be represented by a union. With dues paid, there are millions of dollars available to lobby for ever increasing salary and benefits and for fighting any meaningful fiscal reforms. Their lobbying for higher taxes via Measures 66 and 67 did little to keep teachers in the classroom. Teachers, what’s more important? Organizing yourselves for better benefits and thus allowing diminishing benefits for the very people you are chartered to serve?

Our citizens must bear the greatest responsibility for our educational crisis. We citizens have not done our part in demanding effective change to adequately fund our public school system. For some reason we keep voting for governors and legislators who promise much but do little else. We do not demand fiscal accountability. We vote for piecemeal tax levies that do little to stabilize school funding. We do not demand a public education system that will truly offer quality instruction within the financial resources available. Citizens, what’s more important? Being complacent with the status quo and thus allowing our children to experience lowered expectations of excellence?

To vote for another piecemeal tax levy will not correct the problem. If passed, it still will not adequately fund education. The projected annual revenues from this levy will put about $15 million in next year’s budget. With no changes to PERS or any tax restructuring coming from Salem, the record confirms this, the majority of the $15 million will go directly into PERS. Yes, the $15 million stays in the classroom as promised. PERS is a very large part of the classroom. This is one promise that will be kept.

I urge our citizens within the Beaverton School District to think carefully about this levy. To support this is to encourage the status quo of piecemeal funding resulting in no real impact to alleviate our education crisis. Parents who are so concerned about the education of their children may consider a yes vote as enabling a poorly operating educational system to continue operating poorly. It’s the same enabling concept that keeps addicts from recovery. Perhaps a dose of tough love would better serve our public school system.

Sal DiGrande is a Cedar Hills resident.



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