A Lesson for the Portland Association of Teachers

By William MacKenzie

The Portland Association of Teachers isn’t going to get what it wants.

Voters in Salem just signalled why.

On Tuesday, Nov. 7, Salem voters smashed to smithereens a proposed payroll tax passed by the city council in July.

A total of 82.14% of voters rejected the tax, which would have applied to anyone who worked in Salem, including people commuting into the city from elsewhere.

The fact is, voters are worried about their well-being and in no mood to bear increased government spending. Across the board, they feel that their incomes are being eroded by inflation, that their pay raises aren’t keeping up with inflation, and that their hard-earned living standards are threatened.

The teachers union says it’s on strike “for our students” and insists that the public is behind it. Before the strike, the union trumpeted the results of a poll it sponsored that found Oregonians were inclined to stand with educators and supported teacher strikes, especially in the Portland School District.

I don’t think the teachers can count on that support if it means more money out of the public’s pockets.

After all, taxpayers are already spending an astronomical amount to support Portland Public Schools. As I wrote earlier this year, The Cost of Sending Kids to Portland Public Schools is More Than You Think, a Lot More. The commonly used number for spending per student is $15,000, but that’s actually way off. All funds available to the District in the 2022-23 school year totaled $1.9 billion. Divide that by 41,470 students and per student expenditures came out to $45,533. That’s right, $45,533.

The state’s politicians, including the governor, have figured this out and have made it clear the state won’t bail out the district. And rightly so. As OPB has noted, “It would be unusual — and scandalous in many corners of the state — for the Legislature to find a special pool of money just for Portland schools, particularly since other districts face similar issues.”

Multnomah County residents aren’t likely to look favorably on higher taxes or fees to help the district either. Multnomah County already has the highest marginal tax rates in the United States because of resident’s previous misguided willingness to support innumerable feel good programs.

“I’m sure that when the voters in Multnomah County supported all of those different proposals and programs, they did it with good intent. But collectively, every time that we vote for an increase, particularly in marginal income tax, that definitely has a dampening impact on investment in our community,” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said earlier this year.

Multnomah County has already seen people vote with their feet against rising taxes.

The county lost population in the year ended July 1, 2022, the U.S. Census Bureau said in its annual report on county-level changes. The county’s population stood at 795,083 on July 1, 2022, down 12,494 (1.3%) from 805,593 a year earlier. This followed a similar decline in 2021.

Then, of course, the teacher’s union has to recognize that they want more money when the number of students in the system is declining. Enrollment numbers in the Portland Public School District have been dropping every year since 2019, with the biggest loss of students at the elementary school level. No business would give in to demands for higher pay if its sales were dropping like a stone.