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Voters will likely be asked to continue 5-year local option levy to fund public schools

Portland property owners could soon be asked to extend a five-year property tax levy to fund public schools.

PPS PHOTO/BETH CONYERS - Students at Stephenson Elementary School in southwest Portland attend a Trailblazers playoff pep rally. Stephenson is part of Portland Public Schools, which benefits from a local option property tax levy that voters will soon be asked to renew.Portland Public Schools board directors were briefed earlier this month on plans to pursue a ballot measure this November.

By law, school district staff cannot advance or advocate for any ballot measure, but directors indicated a political action committee would likely be formed soon, on behalf of the district.

Portlanders already pay a property tax levy of $1.99 per $1,000 of assessed value that goes to public schools, on top of bond payments and other property taxes that go toward education. If a levy renewal is approved, voters would continue to pay that same $1.99 amount. The levy was last approved by voters in 2014.

Since the 2013-14 school year, the levy has generated as much as $288.6 million for the school district, according to PPS figures.

PPS serves roughly 48,500 students in the Portland region.

"In this current year … it's contributed about $94.9 million to our budget, supporting roughly 950 teachers," PPS board director Scott Bailey said during an April 9 board meeting. "It's an integral part of our operations now."

In the midst of talks about pitching a levy renewal to voters, Director Julia Brim-Edwards recommended a "broader, transparent conversation with the community" about the progress of bond measures and state audits of PPS.

"Given that this past year, we've had two sort of notable events that received widespread community attention, I think we should provide some corresponding follow-up..." Brim-Edwards noted.

"We intend to educate voters and stakeholders about the levy and the capital bond," Stephanie Soden, PPS executive chief of staff, told PPS board directors during initial levy discussions.

Combined with the Portland Arts Tax, and a gap tax, the levy accounts for roughly 20 percent of PPS's budget, according to 2018 budget documents. PPS receives the bulk of its funding from Oregon's state school fund, which primarily comes from income taxes. Marijuana sales taxes and lottery dollars also contribute to the state schools fund, although lottery dollars account for less than 10 percent, according to school district budget documents.

This story has been updated to correct a statement about which district officials can campaign for a levy.

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