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A generous offer, or preemptive strike?

As a way to support the growing cost of public education, Washington County Commission Chairman Andy Duyck and Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey are offering to give up a good chunk of cash and hand it over to school districts around the county.

The money comes from the Gain Share program lawmakers launched in 2007 as a way for the state to share the additional income taxes generated by job growth in local communities that offered companies reduced property taxes in order to spark new job growth. Since the state collects income taxes in Oregon and the counties and cities are giving up property tax revenue to attract employees that generate those taxes, Gain Share is a good way to even up the financial ledger.

And with a couple fast-growing companies located in Hillsboro, the city and county have seen some serious money come back from this program.

Until now, Hillsboro has been the only city in the county waiving future property taxes under the State Investment Program and qualifying for Gain Share reimbursement. That’s primarily because of the growth of Intel (which reportedly saved more than $62.6 million in property taxes and created or retained 7,701 jobs in Washington County in 2012) and Genetech (which saved $3.8 million in property taxes and created 324 jobs).

The problem is, school districts don’t share in Gain Share, a fact that was pointed out by several school board members in an open letter to county commissioners and city leaders first published by the News-Times last week.

Duyck and Willey responded to the letter at a news conference last Thursday morning, offering to provide a fifth of their respective jurisdictions’ Gain Share funds to area schools — a percentage that translates into roughly $10 million over the next two years.

While $5 million a year is a sizeable sum, it won’t reverse years of budget constraints that have led to teacher layoffs and shortened school calendars throughout the county’s seven districts. In Hillsboro alone, board members last month cut $6.6 million from their two-year budget.

That why Ben Unger and Joe Gallegos, a pair of Democratic state lawmakers from Washington County, are pitching a plan in Salem that would commit 40 percent of Gain Share revenues — twice as much as Willey and Duyck have proposed — to help fund public education.

Gallegos, whose district includes the east side of Hillsboro, said the offer from Duyck and Willey is simply not enough. Even if the county and city ponied up 40 percent of their Gain Share funds, he explained, the Hillsboro School District would still struggle to maintain current staffing levels.

Duyck, while supportive of schools, points out that approximately 38 percent of income tax dollars being generated in the state already go to fund K-12 education. That’s why schools were not included in the original Gain Share legislation.

Unger, whose district stretches from central Hillsboro to Forest Grove, would like to change that, including schools in Gain Share fund distributions on a permanent basis.

Given the push for a higher funding level in Salem, we wonder whether the 20 percent offer from Duyck and Willey is an effort to pre-empt the Legislature, or simply to provide a starting point for possible negotiations. Unger, for his part, is giving them the benefit of the doubt, praising the two local officials for moving the conversation forward.

“Their idea changes the discussion from ‘Should schools be included?’ to ‘How much should schools get from Gain Share?’” an appreciative Unger told the News-Times this week.

Without doubt, it’s a big shift.

Now we’d like to see some serious discussion about that second question. How much should the county’s school districts get from Gain Share? From the early conversations we’ve had, we’re convinced the amount is more than the $5 million on the table.



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