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PPS needs to fix its finances first

Readers' Letters

Portland Public Schools is surveying its public about a new capital bond measure. As the Portland Tribune recently reported, the PPS committee studying PPS facilities needs is recommending a bold, new $1.1 billion bond for the November ballot (School panel wants 'bold' bond proposal, May 10).

What has changed since last May, when we passed the PPS operating levy saying NO to the half-billion capital bond? Not much. The economy in Portland hasn't improved. And, in spite of maxing out the local option levy, laying off teachers and now closing two small schools, PPS' structural operating deficit has not been fixed.

This means every year the district will need to make these same decisions during the budget process; hanging on, ever hopeful that the Legislature will ride in on a white horse to rescue us.

The PPS Board needs to hear from us again; now is not the right time for another capital bond -- regardless of the size. Take the PPS survey at www.pps.k12.or.us.

Now is the time for a long-term plan to deliver financially sustainable, equitable education. We need to know that PPS can provide a standard, comprehensive curriculum, one that includes arts, languages and P.E. at all schools, not just at schools with magnet or immersion programs or well-endowed foundations. Until I see that, PPS will not get my support to build new or "renewed" school buildings.

Jane McFarland

Northeast Portland

Bond worth it to improve schools

First, most schools that need maintenance will not simply be "torn down" (School panel wants 'bold' bond proposal, May 10). Each will be studied independently. I don't think anyone said that a school would be torn down simply because it needs a new furnace. Also, there are some important differences between homes that are 65-plus years old and schools of that age:

• Many schools are of a structural type that is very vulnerable in a serious earthquake. A major earthquake is certain to impact Portland sometime -- maybe soon. Most homes are structurally very different from many schools. While homes may be damaged in an earthquake, they are unlikely to seriously injure their occupants. On the other hand, unreinforced masonry school buildings could result in many dead children. Some of these schools can be properly reinforced. Some may need to be torn down and replaced -- so what? It's cheaper than the alternative.

• Most 65-year-old homes have been upgraded and remodeled many times. Schools not so much. Many schools still have very inefficient furnaces. Upgrading to efficient heating systems in schools will save money in the long term and keep kids warm in the winter.

• Schools need to have technology that will prepare our children for jobs in the 21st century. Some people may be able to afford some of that technology in their homes -- teaching all the nuances of using it is a different matter. Also it is highly desirable that all our children have access to technology so they can be productive and employed when they enter the work force. Personally, I'd rather not increase the jobless population of the future. Unemployment in future generations will have financial consequences for me.

I have no children in school now, but I still believe that paying for schools enhances my life. I would not want to live in a society that doesn't value education. I'll gladly pay the $2.40 per $1,000 if it equitably distributes improved school safety, comfort and educational technology.

If you think schools are expensive, compare that to the cost of ignorance and dead children.

Lew Scholl

Northeast Portland

Saving teachers' jobs just a bandage

We are parents of a Portland Public Schools second-grade student and a rising kindergartner, and we appreciate the Tribune's coverage of the inadequate state funding of public education and the grassroots energy that has emerged in the community recently (School cuts fuel UPSET uprising, April 26).

Like the UPSET march organizers, we too are upset. We are heartbroken by the inadequate funding of public education that continues. Schools have been completely stripped, and the inequities between schools that can finance teachers and programs and those that can't are sickening.

Not only are our children suffering (some more than others) with each cut, but the future of our city and our state is being compromised. Our local leaders boldly collaborated with one another to help spare the loss of 110 teachers, but sadly this is another band-aid to the real problem: the need for comprehensive state tax and revenue reform.

Will our governor and Legislature step up to address this crisis?

Sarah Granger and Dan Petrillo

Northeast Portland

Raise property tax rates above Measure 5 limits

Upset we should all be about the defunding of our schools and other crucial services (Our Opinion, School supporters sound the alarm, May 3). Unfortunately, we the voters have largely tied our politicians' hands on what we can do about it.

The main causes of the funding crisis are: Measure 5, limiting property tax rates and transferring responsibility to the state and its income taxes; Measures 47/50, limiting increases in property tax assessments to 3 percent per year; and the state's failure to maintain pre-Measure 5 levels of school funding, in no small part due to Measure 11, which requires the state to devote increased resources to prisons.

All these voter-approved measures amended our state constitution. With all services cut to the bone, we can't adequately fund our schools without higher or new taxes. Hard to pass.

Here is a suggestion for how we might fill the funding gap: Amend the constitution to allow local jurisdictions to raise property tax rates above Measure 5 limits whenever the state's contribution to school funding is inadequate to maintain school funding levels that existed when Measure 5 passed in 1995.

Xander Patterson

North Portland