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  • 26 Nov 2014

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Hales proposes deal on arts tax

Mayor Charlie Hales has proposed a deal on the controversial 2012 city arts tax that would allow all six school districts in the city to hire art instructors for the coming year.

The tax – overwhelmingly approved by voters in November, 2012 – has been challenged in two law suits. If the city were to lose either suit, the money might have to be given back to taxpayers.

Distribution of the money – an estimated $6 million to both school districts and arts oranizations - is scheduled to begin in November, 2013.

But because of the legal questions, Hales announced in March that the city could not distribute the money to the schools or arts organizations, as intended.

Under the deal proposed by Hales, some city money would be freed up to help the six districts. They are the Portland Public Schools, Centennial, David Douglas, Parkrose, Reynolds and Riverdale school districts.

Under Hales' proposal, the city will disburse $3 million in November, but no more during the 2013-14 fiscal year, pending favorable rulings or settlements on the law suits.

“The superintendents and I have been working to find a way to be true to the taxpayers, whose money this is, and to the voters, who approved the arts tax,” Hales said. “We think this does it.”

Of that $3 million disbursement, the risk will be split equally: $1 million from the city’s contingency fund; $1 million from future budget appropriations to the Regional Arts & Culture Council, or RACC; and $1 million combined from the six school districts.

The money to be disbursed falls overwhelmingly to Portland Public Schools, the largest of the districts. About two-thirds of the dollars are earmarked for PPS; one-third to the other districts.

Each district will decide how it wants to spend the money. For instance, according to Hales' office, Superintendent Carole Smith of Portland Public Schools will recommend hiring an estimated 30 FTE arts teachers – not 45 FTE, or full-time equivalent – and spreading those 30 positions evenly across her district.

Other districts could spend the money to hire, or bank it in case the law suits go against the city and money has to be returned.

“We are not in the business of telling superintendents how to run their districts,” Hales said. “These decisions have been tough to reach, but it’s been a combined effort all along, and we’re grateful to the arts community and our school districts for working with us to find a practical solution. In the end, getting teachers in our classrooms will pay dividends for generations to come.”