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Usual suspects may vote unusually

Failure of school levy would pressure Salem, some parents say
by: JIM CLARK, One might think Cindy Young (left), a parent active in Portland Public Schools and an advocate of adequate school funding, would line up behind Measure 26-84, a local option levy for schools. But Young says the measure isn’t enough, and she’s not supporting it.

Cindy Young considers herself a dedicated parent, having volunteered countless hours in the classroom as well as serving on the site councils and parent-teacher-student associations for three schools.

But the Southeast Portland mother of three is taking an unpopular stand among her peers: She says she won't vote for the Portland Public Schools' local-option levy this fall, which would bring $33 million per year to the schools to maintain teachers, programs and class sizes for the next five years.

'As far as I'm concerned, the measure isn't enough money,' said Young, whose children attend Winterhaven School, a kindergarten-through-eighth grade science and math focus option school in Southeast. 'I won't vote for it because it's another Band-Aid. What I want is not to gimp along as we are, but to have music, art and P.E. back every day.'

Going against the grain on this issue is hard after so many years of supporting the schools, Young said. 'People are really afraid if they stand up, they'll say you're against the kids,' she said. 'A lot of people consider a 'no' vote to be the right-wing agenda. I am so left, it's ridiculous.'

But other parents also are convinced that they ought to reject the levy this year and spend their time looking for a statewide solution.

Julie Poust, another Southeast Portland parent and lifelong supporter of school tax measures, said she'll vote no in the Nov. 7 election. 'The more Portlanders pretend to bail out Salem, the less Salem will have any incentive to do the job they have to do,' she said.

Not either-or, proponents say

With the local business community largely supportive of the tax and the Taxpayers Association of Oregon focusing on statewide initiatives instead, the Portland school levy has escaped organized opposition from the usual suspects.

Instead, the voice of opposition is sounding from the least likely place - liberal Democrats and ardent school supporters who have been growing disillusioned with the district over the years after rounds of school closures and other changes.

'We're shifting everything every five seconds for no data-driven reasons,' said Mary Krummel, who just pulled her three children out of Portland schools and moved to the Riverdale School District, in Southwest.

She did so both to move to a bigger house and to escape the Portland schools, she said, and now Krummel is forming her own little group of 'guerrilla parents' who will lobby the Oregon Legislature for school funding.

Levy supporters say they understand parents' frustrations, but rejecting the measure is the wrong approach.

'The reality is that it's going to take both efforts,' local and statewide, said Shannon Campion, Portland director of the nonprofit advocacy group Stand for Children, one of the major backers of the levy.

'We're not in an either-or situation. We have to pass this levy to build on the momentum we've got going. And to prevent dire consequences. That just can't happen if we're going to continue the achievement gains we're making across the district,' she said.

Krummel isn't convinced the gains have been happening districtwide. 'My daughter has had no art, music, P.E.,' she said, speaking of Southeast's Edwards Elementary, before it closed and merged with Abernethy Elementary last year. 'All the stuff they're talking about, it's not happening. I feel like it's building on this culture of untruths. I'm not buying it. I've been here too long.'

Legislature key for both sides

Campion said her group is readying, along with other parents and organizations districtwide, to lobby the 2007 legislative session for school funding in January.

Not funding the levy in the meantime will only hurt students, she said. 'We're talking about someone's third-grade experience,' she said. 'We're talking about their one shot at fifth grade. You don't let it hit rock bottom because there's more at stake.

'The Legislature is only going to step up for schools and kids because we hold them accountable for it. They're not going to do it if Portland Public Schools falls off a cliff. And they're not going to suddenly care if we don't pass a local-option levy.'

Campion said that among other efforts, her group will lobby to redirect the corporate kicker into a rainy-day fund or an enhanced fund for educational stability. The group is remaining neutral in the governor's race.

Community and Parents for Public Schools, another nonprofit advocacy group, unanimously endorsed the schools levy this week, pointing out that the local option levy was created by state legislators to enable communities to make up for the shortfall in state funding. 'We believe that there is no more important single issue for our community than to provide this funding for our children,' said Doug Wells, vice president of the group.

Terry Olson, a retired teacher who sent his two children to Cleveland High School, is an avid district watchdog who generates community discussions about school issues on his blog postings.

He also believes that supporting the school levy is a necessary evil: 'Given the reality of the situation, until the Legislature takes action, until the makeup of the Legislature changes, local levies are important.'

Krummel, however, is tired of believing that things will change.

'My kids were fourth-generation Portland Public Schools,' she said. 'It's a long line of PTA parents. The grandparents aren't voting for it, no one's going for it. It's sad to leave. I believe in public education so strongly. It's just unequal.'

Next session, she said, 'We want to get a little posse together, make some appointments (with lawmakers), put some real faces on the issue. We'll say you're afraid of losing the middle class, you're losing us. We're lost. I feel like a crackpot. I feel like I've turned into a nut.'

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