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Strong schools translate into strong communities

When I was growing up in Oregon we took public funding of schools for granted. The PTA would do some modest fundraising. But the core academic programs were supported by local property taxes.Macpherson

Today much of what it takes to operate our schools comes from the state and the amount is not sufficient to make them strong. Only by supplementing that funding can we maintain quality programs.

A dozen years ago I ran for state representative from Lake Oswego out of frustration with the chronic underfunding of Oregon public schools. Serving in Salem, I found a dysfunctional formula for financing education. The state allocates the same amount per pupil to school districts across Oregon (with minor adjustments), offset by the revenue flowing from the school portion of property taxes paid within the district.

Because Lake Oswego has strong property values and its voters had approved a higher tax rate for schools when the formula was fixed, it gets less from the state. In a sense, Lake Oswego is punished for its historical support for schools as compared with other districts.

There are only two ongoing sources of revenue that enable Lake Oswego to invest the additional amount necessary to maintain the outstanding quality of its schools. One source is the local option property tax levy, a feature of the state school formula that allows districts to raise a limited amount that is not offset against the equalized amount coming from the state. In the 2003 legislative session Sen. Richard Devlin and I succeeded in passing an increase in the limit on the local option levy, permitting Lake Oswego voters to approve additional funds for local schools.

The other local resource for our schools is provided by the Lake Oswego School District Foundation. The funds raised by the foundation don’t cover little extras. They support the core academic program of the district by paying the salaries of dozens of teachers. Without this funding, class sizes in Lake Oswego schools would swell and important elective classes would be cut.

It was my privilege to serve on the foundation board in 2004-2005. While its fundraising then was quite successful, those amounts pale when compared with the nearly $2 million it raises annually now.

As current residents of Lake Oswego age, fewer have children attending the local public schools. These “empty-nesters” may regard school funding as someone else’s issue. I disagree. Even though I moved to Lake Oswego after my children had left for college, I vote for the local option levy when it comes up for renewal and contribute to the foundation.

Lake Oswego has earned a reputation for high quality schools. As a purely financial matter, this reputation adds value to our homes. But the real impact is less tangible. Strong local schools reinforce success in other aspects of community life.

It’s tempting to wish we could return to a system in which the school portion of local property taxes stayed here in Lake Oswego. The strong value of homes in this community would assure high quality schools without other funding sources. But that system is gone. If the community wants to keep its schools strong, we must support the LOSD Foundation.

Greg Macpherson is a former state representative for District 38.




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