If you're undecided on how to vote on Measure 26-48 on the May 20 ballot, you may well feel that the issues facing Portland Public Schools aren't important to you: 'I have no involvement in Portland's public schools, and don't necessarily want to open my pocketbook to them.'
In fact, the fate of Portland Public Schools is everyone's issue. One result of a failing school system, one without intervention programs and preventive services for at-risk youth, is an increase in juvenile delinquency. A poor education can lead to a lack of job opportunities and, in the long term, a rise in crime.
In the short term, passage of Measure 26-48 will reinstate funding to restore basic Multnomah County public safety and human services to acceptable levels.
Budget cutbacks already are impacting our communities. In Multnomah County, criminal offenders are being released prematurely as a result of public safety cuts and the disappearance of resources necessary to hold and prosecute them. When incarcerated offenders do get released, there aren't enough parole officers to monitor them. The court system has been reduced to a four-day workweek.
The result? Crime is up citywide in every category in the first quarter of 2003, compared with a year ago:
• 19 percent increase in residential burglaries
• 10 percent increase in shoplifting
• 12 percent increase in auto theft
The current punishment for misdemeanor crimes consists of citations instead of arrests.
Measure 26-48 funding would restore 386 medium-security jail beds to house convicted person-to-person crime offenders, those who are the highest risk to the community. Parole supervision would be provided to an additional 300 released offenders. It would restore outreach services to gang-involved youth and other at-risk children to help ensure they stay out of the criminal justice system.
Budget cuts also have torn into the services for those most in need: the mentally ill. Hundreds of mentally ill patients have been removed from housing in the last several months. Cut off from medication and other necessities, many have become a danger to themselves as well as others.
Measure 26-48 would restore mental health services to 3,000 individuals. Such restoration includes medication, walk-in clinics, crisis response and crisis call centers, and shelter for 400 of those most in need. Medication, nursing, emergency housing and other services would be restored for more than 500 low-income, disabled or chronically ill seniors.
Passage of Measure 26-48 is vitally important to our public school children, but also to our seniors, to our mentally ill and, in the end, to all of us.
Jim Jeddeloh is chairman of the Citizens Crime Commission and a member of the Portland Business Alliance board of directors.