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By Lindsay Berschauer
The Portland Public School District announced last week that it is seeking a bond measure to the tune of $548 million, targeted mainly for renovation of some of the lowest performing schools in the district, Roosevelt and Jefferson High Schools. Roosevelt and Jefferson serve a combined 1,550 students, a fraction of what most other public schools serve. The District is seeking short-term one- and two-year bonds and asking taxpayers, or more specifically property owners, to pony up all but $100 million of the estimated $548 million cost.
Proponents of the measure argue that quality schools lead to strong neighborhoods and increased property values. However, with a near 10% unemployment rate in Portland and foreclosure rates still high, increasing taxes on struggling families ultimately will prove detrimental to the city. Exterior facelifts will not improve education performance and lead to quality schools. PPS should focus on teacher performance, expanding education options by approving more charter schools, and implementing open enrollment for public schools.
Focusing on renovations and décor won’t make a dent in the abysmal 2009-2010 graduation rates of both schools: Jefferson at 52% and Roosevelt at less than 40%. This bond measure may improve the outward appearance of a couple schools in Portland, but it’s the guts that count.
Lindsay Berschauer is a Research Associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.