Will voters continue to support our schools?

Dave Berg_thb

by Dave Berg

A couple of years ago I was at my gym discussing local issues with a fellow citizen. When I told them that I supported our schools, had voted for the optional levy and all the bonds of the past twenty years, they simply replied “thank you”.

I was stunned to hear that response. Why? It was the first time in 20 years any parent actually thanked me for supporting the schools, despite not having a child in the system. It turns out this resident was a parent that understood the economics of schools and truly appreciated the contribution the overwhelming majority of property owners make to our school system. This experience made me realize how few residents really understand about the level of support for schools in my community. 

It also encouraged me to go check my facts. Seventy percent of property owners in my community don’t have school age children. Yes, that’s astoundingly correct. The school system is primarily supported by residents with no children. Think about that for a moment. It’s an overwhelmingly gracious level of support, from those that are not directly receiving a benefit, by having school age children in the system. Many of them have never had children in our schools, but still support them through their income taxes and an optional property tax levy. That’s a remarkable display of commitment.

Why all of the support? Lake Oswego values education because it is highly educated. In broad terms two thirds of our residents are college educated with one third having graduate degrees. That’s quite unique in Oregon and it represents a core element of our “community character”. Yet, will this community continue to support the school system as it matures? That’s a question that comes up frequently when talking to local voters. Many of them are under financial pressure and have seen significant declines in their property values without any real property tax relief.

We will find out soon if the support remains. Lake Oswego residents are being asked to approve a “levy” on their property, often called the “local option”, in November. It represents a renewal of a significant additional tax on voters who own property and is about 10-13% of the school system budget. Voter turnout is expected to be very low (28-32%) in an off year election.

Five years ago the option passed by 14% but still 43% of residents voted against it. That’s not an insignificant amount of residents voting against an additional tax. That vote was prior to the downturn in our economy, tax/fee increases at the state level, and further erosion of property values. So it’s anybody’s guess if the 70% will support the 30% again. The results of this local election may give us all insight into the broader level of support for schools throughout Oregon. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on this vote as a leading indicator for public support.

It will be interesting to see if our little town votes toward preserving our “community character”, given all the other efforts going on in Salem. Still, the next time you meet someone in the 70%, remember, a simple thank you will do!

Dave Berg is a 22-year resident of Lake Oswego a board member of COLA LO, Chair of the Lake Oswego Budget Committee, and Co-Chair of the Legislative Committee of the Clackamas County Republican Party