Published March 24, 2006 ~ By David F. Ashton
Multnomah County Lonnie Roberts reads letters of support for equal school funding, as a “who‚Äôs who” of county education sits ready to lend their support at the March 22 gathering. David F. Ashton Photo
It looks like Multnomah County Commissioners Lisa Naito, Maria Rojo de Steffey, and Serena Cruz Walsh have gotten their way when it comes to funding schools with County I-Tax dollars. They voted to spend $6.4 million to help some schools ‚Äì but not all of them ‚Äì in East Portland. Their decision was to give $5.2 million to Portland Public Schools and the remainder to the Reynolds School District.
How much will Parkrose and David Douglas School Districts get? Nada. Nothing. Not one, thin dime. The Multnomah County Commissioners voted 3 to 2 on March 23. The two commissioners who “lost” were Roberts and Chair Linn.
The day before the vote, school superintendents from all over Multnomah County gathered at the David Douglas School District offices for a meeting they called, “Superintendents Speak Out!” A “who‚Äôs who” of education propionates turned out for the event.
David Douglas Schools superintendent Barbara Rommel talks with Dr. Thomas Hagerman, her counterpart in the Riverdale district. David F. Ashton Photo
David Douglas‚Äô superintendent Barbara Rommel told us, “We‚Äôre here today to emphasize the importance of parity in funding for any money available from Multnomah County to the schools. We need to give attention to all of the students, in all of our schools.”
Commissioner Lonnie Roberts and Gresham mayor Chuck Becker say the unequal distribution of Multnomah County education dollars is unfair. David F. Ashton Photo
“We want equity in school funding,” is what District 4 County Commissioner Lonnie Roberts told us in an exclusive interview. “Three of the county commissioners put forth a proposition that would leaving out David Douglas and Parkrose ‚Äì remember, these school districts are both in the City of Portland, as well as the county.”
While Roberts said he can‚Äôt speak for Commissioners Naito, Rojo de Steffey, nor Cruz Walsh, he said he was told that their formula was based on the giving the money to the districts with the greatest “needs”. “Either these two school systems really do have greater problems, or they haven‚Äôt managed their resources as well as the others.”
Roberts pointed out that David Douglas doesn‚Äôt serve wealthy neighborhoods. “77% of their students qualify for reduced or free lunches. We have the same situation in Centennial. In Parkrose, David Douglas and Centennial, 47 different languages or dialects are spoken at home. This cultural diversity presents an enormous challenge to develop programs that are designed to meet the needs of these students.”
The bottom line, Roberts added, is “we need to have equal funding.”
“Oregon PTA is very interested in school funding issues and fairness for all children. We are concerned about the fund distribution in Multnomah County,” is how Victoria Guillebeau, VP Leadership, Oregon PDA, put it to us. “Our children are our future. While I‚Äôm sure the Commissioners‚Äô hearts are in the right place, we want to make certain that all districts are treated fairly.”
Fred Sanchez, owner of Realty Brokers, was introduced to the group as also being the past president of the Gateway Area Business Association. “It is important that all of our kids get a fair share of educational funding. I‚Äôve come to speak so all of our kids get a good education.”
Michel Taylor, Superintendent of the Parkrose School District, speaks out regarding the funding situation he says is unfair to those gathered at the meeting — and Portland’s traditional media.
Superintendent of the Parkrose School District, Michel Taylor, said during the meeting how the I-Tax helped their district bring education up to “minimal levels”, providing students with a better education. He explained how they budgeted the money to stretch out the funding over time. the length of time “Then, without any conversation with our district, this [new plan that cuts their funds] determines we don’t have a need. There was no talk, no rationale presented. We have a grate deal of difficulty with that notion.”
To the surprise of some, Dr. Terry Kneisler, Reynolds School District superintendent ‚Äì the other district scheduled to get some county cash ‚Äì didn‚Äôt seem pleased. When asked if his district will accept the funding, he said “Yes. We have no choice.” He added that he told the commissioners it didn‚Äôt seem fair for the funding to go to some school districts, and not others. “The amount of money available to students should not change when they move across boundary lines. We appreciate the generosity, but we need a better way,”
Will there be a better way? We‚Äôll see. Threats of lawsuits are flying ‚Äì like by Ken Noah, superintendent of Gresham-Barlow – to even things up.
?ì 2006 David F. Ashton – East PDX News