Help schools go distance

by: JIM CLARK, Dunio Talasow (left) and Fartun Aden, Kenyan-born first-graders at Grout Elementary, are just a few of the students who stand to benefit from Measure 26-84.

The national mantra of No Child Left Behind has an immediate connection for voters facing the Portland Public Schools' local-option levy in the Nov. 7 election.

Without approval of the levy, and without continued fiscal and educational reforms occurring in Portland schools, this community risks leaving an entire generation of students behind.

Voters absolutely cannot allow that to happen.

Even as citizens encourage the district to press forward with plans for greater operational efficiencies and academic achievement, voters must support Measure 26-84. The levy, which will provide $33 million to $41.6 million in local funding for each of the next five school years, is an essential part of the equation for improvement in Portland's public schools.

The measure would revive a property tax levy that expired in 2005. We recognize that the additional cost of $1.25 per $1,000 of assessed property value is not insignificant.

We also recognize that voters aren't likely to sign off on these additional taxes without assurance that Portland schools are making every effort to reduce expenses and increase academic results in a district that's steadily been losing enrollment.

Fortunately, we can point to strong evidence that the school board, district administrators, teachers, parents, students and support staff have confronted the district's most difficult challenges.

They've agreed to close schools. They've demanded greater accountability, reduced administrative expenses and tackled the perplexing problem of rising employee-benefit costs. Even while putting cost-control measures in place, the district has seen student achievement in math and reading rise at every grade level tested.

The reforms and improvements are taking hold and must be allowed to continue to provide hope for stemming the outflow of students to the suburbs, and for the city's schools to regain their reputation for educational excellence and reinforce the connection between quality neighborhoods and quality schools.

Change, however, isn't instantaneous. And stable funding is a vital component in the ongoing improvement.

Without approval of Measure 26-84, class sizes in Portland schools will increase to undesirable levels. At-risk students will not receive the help they need. The district will be unable to replace outdated textbooks and other educational materials.

We are confident that Portland schools are on the correct course for improvement. But while the steps are being taken, it's also critically important to invest in the students who are in school right now. Their education will be complete in a few short years, and without approval of this levy, their educational needs won't fully be met.

Let's not leave these students behind. Voters should approve Measure 26-84 in the Nov. 7 general election.