Schools levy likely to come back before voters in November
A property tax levy that would generate almost $100 million for Portland Public Schools next year likely will come before voters again this fall. The levy currently funds more than 800 Portland teachers.
Portland Public Schools will seek input during a public hearing scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 6, but the location and more details of that hearing had yet to be announced as of press time.
During a board meeting Tuesday, July 16, district directors got a brief overview of timelines and finances related to the levy, which was approved by 70% of Portland voters in 2014. It's likely to be referred back to voters in November.
The five-year local option levy collects $1.99 per $1,000 of assessed property value. District
officials say the levy helps supplement the money PPS gets from the State School Fund, by covering the cost of anywhere from 750 to 870 teachers.
District staff were blunt about what's at stake.
"There's a significant impact to the budget should this not be referred," Stephanie Soden, executive chief of staff for the district, told the board. "We're looking at 800 teaching positions that we'd have to eliminate."
The levy renewal comes after a school year that saw teacher protests and a statewide walkout over cuts to state funding for K-12 schools and what teachers describe as overcrowded classrooms.
When the levy was initially pitched five years ago, it was expected to be able to pay for at least 640 teachers.
Data show the levy paid for 757 teachers in the 2015-16 school year, and by 2018-19, the money covered 870 teachers. It brought in $93.3 million in the 2018-19 school year, and is projected to generate $96 million for PPS next school year.
On average, the district said it costs the district $107,344 per teacher, in salary and benefits. District staff said the average levy revenue over the course of five years "comes very close to the increase in cost for staff and benefits."
The PPS board had talked about a levy renewal ballot measure months prior, but now the district is on an accelerated timeline to get things shored up before the Nov. 5 election.
School board members asked about lowering the levy amount, to ease the burden on taxpayers.
"If we want to keep the same staffing ratio, for our class sizes, then it's important that we keep up with salary and benefits," Claire Hertz, deputy superintendent of business and operations, told the board. "It is a levy, it is influenced quickly with what is happening with the real market value."
Julia Brim-Edwards, vice chair of the school board, noted PPS's levy comes in higher than most other school districts and regional taxing districts. She worried about whether voters would embrace the tax measure again, citing a potential bond measure from Metro coming before voters.
"On the one hand it's very appealing to have those resources … to staff our schools in a way we wouldn't be able to if we didn't have (this)" Brim-Edwards said, but noted "the overall tax burden" to Portland voters.
According to a financial analysis provided by Portland Public Schools, the district can collect and use levy funds without impacting the amount it receives from State School Fund, up to a certain amount. Hertz said if the district collects more revenue than the state's established threshold, which is updated annually, it could lower the taxing rate.
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