In November, voters turned down Measure 97, an admittedly-vague measure that would have added billions to state coffers, and ostensibly more money to Oregon schools. Voters approved Measure 98 to fund career and technical education and college prep in all Oregon high schools. The passage of Measure 99, meanwhile, created an Outdoor Education Fund to provide outdoor school for kids statewide.
With the passage of two of the three education-related measures, Oregon's kids took a small step forward; but as reported in our 12/15 editorial, the governor's subsequent proposed budget slated 53 percent less than Measure 98 originally called for.
When it came to Measure 97, 66.14 percent of voters in Deschutes County voted no. Some opposed it for its vague language and the fear that much of the funds would ultimately go toward funding the Public Employees Retirement System, an overdue bill that will come due in 2017. Others opposed Measure 97 because it would only target certain corporations. We supported Measure 97, not because it was a perfect bill, but because it offered a solution to a longstanding problem—the best and only tangible one we'd seen in a long time. As many know, Oregon's schools are far behind in necessary repairs and soon will be bursting at the seams.
Measure 97 would have eased some of those woes, but it was not to be. Now, voters in Deschutes County will have another funding mechanism for facilities: a $268.3 million bond proposed by the Bend-La Pine school board last week. With the majority of schools experiencing overcrowding and with hundreds of new students moving in every year, the district needs new schools to keep pace with growth—and it's going to fall on local voters to pay for it. Among the items proposed is $33 million for a new elementary school and $129 million for a new high school for southeast Bend, according to a report from KTVZ. Additional funds would be used for energy efficiency improvements, technology upgrades and other necessary repairs and expansions.
The proposal would add 44 cents per $1,000 of property value, equating to roughly $130 in additional taxes for the owner of a $300,000 home. While we support the proposed bond and the additions it would bring, we have to note that once again, it's the property owners who will bear the brunt of the burden. Oregon's system of taxation has been repeatedly called out for leaning most heavily on property taxes to fund public services, and with this record-level proposed bond measure, local voters will be tapped once again.
"I think we're really lucky in Bend-La Pine because when bonds come up and people say we need to build a new school, everybody chips in," said Collin Robinson, a Bend-La Pine parent and the president of the Oregon PTA in an article in the Source in September. The last time a school bond was posed, in 2013, 62.42 percent of voters in Deschutes County voted yes. This time, when the bond measure comes up for a vote, vote in favor of funding adequate educational facilities for our local kids. At the same time, don't let up on the Legislature in finding other creative solutions to bring more funds into the state coffers, and in turn to our local school budgets. Increased taxation on corporations? Another sales tax that targets Oregon's many visitors instead of only homeowners? Let's work on it.