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Funding schools is legislators job

Multnomah County commissioners aren't members of the Portland school board. So it's not up to the commissioners to solve the severe fiscal problems confronting public schools. Nor is it their job to act as a pseudo-Legislature or to obscure the need for urgent state action to improve Oregon's public education system.

The combination of good intentions and political opportunism has a way, however, of muddying clear thinking. Last week, we witnessed Multnomah County Chairwoman Diane Linn promising $5 million in school funding for the next fiscal year, while her most prominent opponent, Ted Wheeler, talked of his own, as-yet-unrevealed plan to fund schools.

However, the commissioners can be part of the solution.

Certainly, this state doesn't have an overabundance of leaders willing to address the school-funding issue head-on. But the leadership needed from county commissioners on the issue of direct school funding is this: unrelenting pressure where it matters most Ñ in Salem. It is the Legislature that has constitutional and moral authority to ensure an adequate education for every child in Oregon.

Promises from commissioners or candidates about education funding also will only cause confusion for a public that likely will be asked by the Portland school district for additional tax dollars to plug a $90 million budget hole. In that sense, Linn's offer of $5 million could be counterproductive, leading voters to believe that government always can find money when it needs it.

County leaders Ñ and county taxpayers Ñ have a role in education by providing funding for such things as early childhood learning, the successful Schools Uniting Neighborhoods program and delinquency prevention. Commissioners also have bully pulpits from which they can advocate for education. But now that the county's temporary income tax finally has expired, it's time for commissioners to concentrate all of their available school-funding energy on the Legislature Ñ not talk of county aid that doesn't really deal with the crisis that Portland schools continue to face.