Sell PCC, Don’t Subsidize Mismanagement

Portland Community College recently mailed a slick, multicolor, expensive brochure to (probably) hundreds of thousands of registered voters across five counties. Why? To “educate” us so we vote this November to tax ourselves more to pay for PCC’s 20-year, $374 million bond. Instead of more subsidies for PCC, the various campuses should be converted into private, nonprofit organizations or sold to private, for-profit entities. This is the smart thing to do: Apparently the people at the helm have little-to-no ability to run the wildly popular PCC. Why make that claim? According to the “educational” brochure, student demand for PCC services is high, real high — but, oddly, there’s not enough money to run the place.
The “educational” brochure reports, “In the fall of 2007, almost 10,000 students were put on waiting lists for classes and more than 5,000 of that group didn’t get into the classes they needed.” In an established business, filled-to-capacity + demand-beyond-capacity = a good sum of money left in the till to pay for the things needed to accommodate that demand. But, at PCC this apparently means nothing of the sort.

What the high, unfulfilled demand likely means: PCC services are underpriced. It’s also possible that PCC’s operating expenses are too high. Or both. Hence the “educational” brochure that makes a case for why property owners should cough up more tax dollars. For 20 years. For $374 million.

(Renters, don’t be fooled. If the bond measure passes, you, too, will pay for the increase in property taxes. Landlords are certain this to pass along this tax increase to you in the form of higher rent.)

The “educational” brochure notes, “PCC has more students applying for programs than can fit into current facilities.” One must wonder, have the various PCC branches contacted area hotels or high schools about renting space? Certainly there are meeting rooms in these places that are empty during the day and evening. Why not use existing resources before launching expensive construction efforts, which down the road will also require tax dollars for maintenance?

The “educational” brochure asserts, “Business and industry are asking for workforce training programs that PCC cannot offer without additional space.” This smacks of corporate welfare.

Next we are told, “Employers are importing welders from the Gulf Coast because there are so few trained locally.” So? Private vocational training programs exist in the state, for example, Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc. And, apprenticeships work well for training many vocational skills; my father became a darn great electrician through an apprenticeship, to the point of owning his own electrical contracting business. In sum, PCC need not provide what the private sector can do, or already is doing.

Converting the PCC campuses into autonomous, nonprofit entities and/or selling them to for-profit concerns would be a good way to bring about competition in terms of regulating, even reducing, expenses at the schools to the benefit of students. Further, taking such bold action would foster smarter use of existing resources, also to the benefit of students. Oh, and property tax payers — that’s all of us — would benefit as well.