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Stopgap fix can buy schools time

Although it doesn't deserve total blame, the state Legislature helped the Portland school district get into its current budget jam.

It only makes sense, then, that lawmakers should play a significant role in easing the district's woes. With the prospect of a special legislative session becoming more certain this summer, Oregon's largest school district has hope of legislative assistance. The potential Salem contribution Ñ which actually could be a $15.8 million annual renewal of a property tax that Portlanders have paid in the past Ñ is but one component of a multifaceted solution to the district's very real $57 million problem.

Even lawmakers from rural Oregon may be inclined to help Portland schools if they see evidence that the district and local elected officials are acting responsibly to meet taxpayers halfway.

The initial step is to scour city and school district budgets for cash that can be used to bolster funding for the 2006-07 school year. Already, the city is considering a one-time contribution, while the district is analyzing a number of options, ranging from the use of reserve funds to cutting staff and programs.

With the city's donation and a school district pledge for budget savings and reserve dollars, local voters will recognize that school supporters are doing more than simply asking for additional taxes.

That assurance should give legislators confidence to extend the so-called 'gap-bond' funding, which, in reality, is an additional property tax levied within the Portland school district. Even Republican House Speaker Karen Minnis is open to this discussion, which bodes well for the school district when the special session convenes, most likely in June.

A patchwork of special funding, one-time savings and budget cutbacks is not the ideal way to keep schools operating for the coming year. But such a compromise is, frankly, the only option available in the current anti-tax climate. By the time the 2007 Legislature convenes for its regular session, much will change Ñ not the least of which is a growing state revenue forecast.

For now, however, bringing together a deal between the state, the city, the school district and its taxpayers is in the best immediate interest of the community's children.