Monday, February 21, 2011

Portland $548 million school bond: No, but . . . .

Nothing worthwhile in life is simple. 
Your job isn't simple.  Your love life isn't simple. 
Neither is the Portland Public School (PPS) $548 million bond.  It's not a choice whether you're "for kids and jobs" or not. 
It's a choice of whether to cover playgrounds before you fund physical education programs.
In this "School bond: No, but . . " series, you'll see that one can be "for the kids" in a way that will actually result in improved learning, not new buildings. 
You can tell PPS that the best way to spend your money is to fix what is necessary, then improve education before you improve more buildings.
First, a little background.  Here's an economic "look in the mirror" for Portland.
1.  Unemployment (December, 2010)- 9.9% 
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Portland metropolitan area has an unemployment rate nearly 9% higher than the national average.
2.  Average household income (2008) - $70,000
According to Greenlight Greater Portland, Portland's average household income is ninth lowest of ten western metropolitan areas surveyed.
3.  Cost of renting versus buying a home - Cheaper to rent
According to Trulia, it is more cost effective to rent rather than buy a home in Portland.  Homeowner costs are high, and, one out of every 44 of our homes got some type of foreclosure notice in 2010.
4.  The bottom line
Our unemployment rate is high, our average household income is comparably low, and the cost of home ownership is comparably high.  Clearly, any additional cost to Portland property owners should be limited to what is absolutely necessary, and not a cent more.  That's fair to both homeowners in difficult times - and the kids.
The Portland Public School construction bond
1.  What is needed - $370 million
Two-thirds ($370 million) of the PPS bond is based on legitimate need for urgent repairs.  Marysville K-8 School suffered significant loss in a recent fire.  Jefferson, Cleveland and Roosevelt High Schools, and Laurelhurst, Faubion and Rigler K-8, and Markam Elementary are also in desperate need of repairs.
These are necessary repairs, and they're necessary now.
I urge you to be "for the kids" and vote "yes."
2.  What is proposed - $548 million
That's right.  We need $370 million and we're asking for $548.   To be paid by home owners in a city with 9.9% unemployment.  And comparably low household income.  And an already high cost of home ownership.
So, this other $178 million is urgent, too, right?
The simple answer is that, in order to get everybody to vote "yes," all 85 campuses - not just the 8 that need it - will receive some kind of upgrade.   As we've seen, nothing is simple.
My personal favorite construction project in the $178 million unnecessary repair portion of the bond issue is providing covered playgrounds for schools with very uncertain physical education program funding.   Yes for protected playgrounds.  Maybe not for physical education teachers.
Talk about this with your friends and colleagues.
$370 million - yes.  $548 million - no.
More next week.
Until then, I sincerely invite anyone who can justify the additional $178 million to reply.  I'm for the kids, too.

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