Court: Cities and schools must cut ties
The Oregon Supreme Court ruled Thursday 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 Aug. 31, ruled that schools were violating Measure 5 tax caps by accepting some funds from cities and counties if the funds steer more than 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.
School officials in Lake Oswego say they don't foresee funding conflicts in three local programs that receive city contributions: after school, maintenance and school patrol programs.
Bill Korach, superintendent of the Lake Oswego School District, called those programs 'partnerships' and said the city of Lake Oswego benefits equally from them and can still legally provide its own programs for school-age children.
'My guess is it's not going to affect that at all. It's not a matter of the city giving the school district money to do what they're going to do,' he said. 'I think what its going to affect, if I understand it, is something like the city of Portland using tax dollars to provide directly to schools.'
In Lake Oswego, 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.
The potential loss of funds from those programs, totaling about $200,000, is roughly equal to three teachers in the district. School officials have said the loss would not be a heavy hit in a year when state funding will increase but are disappointed 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. 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 the recent 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.