Featured Stories

High court strikes a blow against school funding source

Ruling will require schools to halt practice of partnerships with cities and counties

The Oregon Supreme Court ruled today that schools statewide must sever ties with government-funded programs, a move that will force an end to school partnerships with cities and counties, rolling up after-school programs, recreation leagues, police patrols and other supplemental programs.

The high court, in a decision made public this morning, ruled that schools were violating Measure 5 tax caps by accepting some funds from cities and counties if the funds steer more than the allowed - $5 per $1,000 for schools in Oregon -- to schools, even if that money comes from other government agencies.

Larger districts like Eugene, Portland and Ashland appear to face the biggest problems.

In Lake Oswego, the future of three programs hangs in the balance. The city pays $80,000 a year for a school resource officer, uses a portion of a $400,000 maintenance program for upkeep of school fields and spends $80,000 a year on an after school program for youth.

Bill Korach, superintendent of the Lake Oswego School District, said it is too soon to say how those programs might be affected.

'Right now we're really focused on getting school started next week,' Korach said.

'Every time there is a decision made that might affect us, obviously we take a look at it,' he said.

The ruling does not affect the construction of two turf-fields soon to benefit both school and city programs. That project, funded by a $900,000 bond measure passed in 2002, is exempt from Measure 5 caps because it is a capital improvement.

The potential loss of funds from other programs, totaling about $200,000, is roughly equal to three teachers in the district. School officials have said the loss is not a heavy hit in a year when state funding will increase but worry the court's opinion will take other funding options off the table.

'We would always like as many options as we can because we need options. We live year to year without knowing what our resources are going to be,' Korach said.

In the past, the school district has relied on the city of Lake Oswego to carry athletic programs when money is tight. In the '90s, the city transferred $1 million a year to sports while funding to schools was limited.

Today those programs are funded by a $250 fee that high school students pay for sports. The pay-to-play fees may be more common in education now that other government support for extras is out of the funding equation.

Don McIntire, who authored Measure 5 and much of Oregon law limiting tax collection, said schools shouldn't be funded exclusively by taxpayers in Oregon.

'The point of Measure 5 was to control property taxes,' he said, and meant to shift school-funding problems to the Legislature for solutions.

His political action committee, Taxpayers Association of Oregon, funneled donations to a lawsuit in Eugene that brought about today's decision.

That suit, brought against the city on behalf of taxpayer Nick Urhausen, challenged Eugene's collection of taxes, through levy, for school programs. Urhausen sued for $355.02 in tax overpayments and won a case in state tax court in February. It was heard by the Oregon Supreme Court on appeal in June.

McIntire said the decision will force local school districts to respect caps on property tax collection and will pressure the Oregon Legislature for school funding solutions.

'You can make an argument that schools benefit property but there is no reason that schools should be totally dependent on property taxpayers,' McIntire said.