Portland has money for light rail & bike lanes, but not schools

by Dave Lister

For those of us in opposition, the narrow defeat of the obscenely expensive Portland Public Schools construction bond was a miracle on the order of the parting of the Red Sea. Not only did the supporters of the measure have more than a million dollars to spend against an underfunded and loosely organized opposition, but they also had the school district itself pressing the envelope of electioneering like I’ve never seen.

A mail piece from PPS arrived at my home just before the election under the guise of “public information.” It showed how badly the schools were in disrepair, explained the urgency of getting on with rebuilding, and proclaimed that, despite it all, the district was still doing a great job educating the kids. Even after The Oregonian called foul on what was clearly unlawful campaigning, the district mailed a follow-up, reasserting the urgency but more clearly explaining the cost.

That’s when many homeowners realized it could be much more than the $400 per year being touted.

Another reason the defeat was miraculous is that the pro-bond campaign was masterminded by Portland’s premier political strategist, Mark Wiener. Wiener, who calls his firm “Winning Mark,” has been the brains behind the successful campaigns of most of the state’s high-profile Democrats, most recently conducting the campaign securing a third term for Gov. John Kitzhaber. Wiener has such an uncanny gauge on the pulse of Portland voters that he scuttled former Mayor Tom Potter’s attempt to reform our city government by simply sending out a mail piece bearing the image of President George W. Bush. Considering Portland voters have rarely, if ever, turned down requests “for the kids,” this one should have been a slam dunk for Wiener. But for some reason, this time “Winning Mark” lost. If the opponents had been as well-funded and well-managed as the supporters, the slim “no” margin would have been much wider.

The question is why was it defeated?

Most people simply shrug it off on the economy. They say the bond was too expensive and folks couldn’t afford it. But I’m not convinced that’s the whole reason.

Mom used to tell us we couldn’t have dessert until we’d eaten our vegetables. That simple truth is lost on our leaders. Our town is full of expensive dessert. We have the Eastbank Esplanade. We have streetcars. We have bike lanes and bioswales. We’re spending half a billion dollars to run light rail to Milwaukie and considering a streetcar to Lake Oswego. Meanwhile, the schools are crumbling, the roads are in disrepair and the Sellwood Bridge teeters on the edge of collapse. The things that should be top priority lay on the plate like the over-boiled lima beans Mom used to make us choke down.

When you ask the politicians how we can justify new rail lines and transit artwork and eco roofs while the roads are full of potholes and the schools are crumbling, you get a lecture on the “colors of money.” Transportation money is red. Water utility money is blue. Parks money is orange. As a citizen, you’re told no mixing is allowed. Of course, if you’re an elected, the rules don’t apply and you can use water utility money to bail out the Rose Festival, build solar powered latrines, purchase land and build an eco-spec house.

Mom also used to say “if there’s a will, there’s a way.” With all the dessert projects going on in this town, don’t tell me there’s no money to rebuild the schools and don’t lecture me about colored money. Last time I checked, all the money in my wallet was green.

Dave Lister is a small-business owner who served on Portland’s Small Business Advisory Council.

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Posted by at 06:39 | Posted in Portland Schools | 40 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Bob Clark

    First off, bioswales should be called bioditches (I hate’m.  As a pedistrian they are an obstacle you have to walk around, and they don’t strike me as being very kid friendly).

    Dave is spot on about the misprioritization in stump town.  But with a demographic that is getting younger (Census 2010), the new age pipedream stuff sells politically while the nuts and bolt stuff goes to the back of the bus.  The latest example of our pipe smoking city hall is to hang bicycle parts on street poles.  I walked into my neighborhood market yesterday, and people were aghast at the public dollar waste on this new demonstration of lunancy by stumptown city hall.

    As for the defeat of the school bond measure:
    I think the Yes side made tactical errors in their campaign.  They spent much of their money and efforts on fliers and T.V adds.  But the fliers were so busy in words I think most receipients just turned immediately and tossed them in recycling.  The T.V adds were too cutely done to convey a sense of real danger.  The most effective tactic of using paid canvassers to rustle up yes side ballots came only in the last weekend, getting off too little and too late.

    I hope Dave is right and the electorate is getting tired of the old saw: we ask you to make this sacrifice “for the children.”  A number of my No side compatriots argue the School District only went oversized on this measure so as to come back with the right size measure in the next year or so.  In other words, this measure was a set up for the next measure.  I believe the next measure will be difficult to defeat because the operations levy won’t also be on the ballot, and the next measure will probably be more modest. 

    I think the best course on Portland Public Schools (PPS) is to come up with an alternative rebuild plan focused on economy and possibly other forms of finance.  One area of interest is the replacement of oil fired boilers with natural gas fired equipment.  I am wondering if the dollar fuel savings for PPS from this replacement of heating equipment wouldn’t actually pay for the up front investment dollars so as to eliminate the need for tax dollars.  So, I hope to get out in front of PPS’ next renovation measure with an alternative plan.  I sent an e mail to the “learn now and build later” website asking this crowd where do we go from here;  and so far, I am just getting the sound of cricketts (no response, that is).

  • RobinWonders

    schools… road repair… jails…they’re just not fun.  They don’t really have that “feel-good” feeling that you get from creating a 600 mile new bike path.

    Dave Lister is right on and it’s something that the people have been trying to get through these idiots heads for a long time but they’re just not listening.

    For example… during the last November election for the state legislature, one of the first things that they did after the Legislature convened, was to designate the border collie as the state dog.

    which tells me… that we need to invoke a new age requirement for our representatives.

  • Timmy

    First of all, hanging bike parts is a good idea. If my bike breaks down I can have ready access to a part I might need for free! This is city planning at its finest.

    Second, the schools do need our money – lots of it – these teachers average only 90K a year in salary and benefits and yet they work with our kids for almost 5 hours a day and for 170 days of the year! Nobody can tell me that makes any sense. Way too much work for way too little pay.

    If we can fix all the buildings with bond money, then more taxpayer money is left to give the teachers what they deserve.

    Thank you PDX for showing the way!!!

    • just doing the math

      “If we can fix all the buildings with bond money, then more taxpayer money is left to give the teachers what they deserve.”

      I just really hope you are kidding. What do you think a bond is? TAXPAYER MONEY!

  • Timmy

    Hey all you light rail morons. If you took the half bil it will cost for the Milwaukie line and just gave it to everyone who will ever ride it in the next 10 years they could all afford a new Caddy and a driver!!!
    Idiots. All of you.

  • Rupert in Springfield

    I think it would be premature to say that a large factor in the defeat of this measure was not the cost to the individual. $400 is a lot of money to come up with for most people in a down Economy. Whether liberal or conservative politically, people are generally conservative in the field of their own endeavor.

    Another aspect could also be the simple fact that Portland is a town awash with hipsters. The number of people who have children is astonishingly small, so again, less interest in slathering the state with money to waste on paying some schmoe $50 and hour to walk around with some spackle when schools out. This could be why you see devotion to bike paths and dopey choo choos and less to schools. Hipsters love them some bike path and if they have some art work at the bus for the end of the ride, so much the better.

    Im not much of a fan of shifting money from the $50 an hour spackle guy to the $60 bike path tar slinger. However I do applaud the fact that in both Portland and Eugene throwing money at schools was turned down for once. Again, those who worked so hard to defeat these measures should really be proud of themselves. It wasn’t easy but they did it.

    • Valley Dude

      On the first point, yes, and extra $400 a year is a lot to ask when we are just creeping out of a recession. Its a big lift, yet they came up just short in spite of a strong campaign against and at least from the outside looking in, some good arguments by the opposition.

      On the 2nd part, blaming it on the hipsters being selfish? Gee Rupert, you sound like some crotchety old guy (“Tarnation! These dang kids!”). If it was hipsters voting their own self interest, I would think that would be consistent with your John Galt view of human nature no? You should be praising and recruiting them for saying no to taxes. Not criticizing their individual choices to ride bikes and drink PBR.  

      • Pdxteacher

        $400 is just having a latte 100 times a year, or twice a week. If people can’t give up lattes for kids, they should be ashamed.

        • just doing the math

          What is it with this 400 increase? I calculated my property tax increase
          at 1054, just for the bond and levy and just for the first year! This increase
          did not include the fire bond, the library, and the historical society.

          And PDXTEACHER, you should be ashamed of continually using our kids
          as political tools to get what you want. The “It’s for the Children” has
          worn thin while those families in foreclosure are kicked to the curb.

          • Pdxteacher

            But I will still get my PERS and my golden parachute and will laughing all the way to Arizona.
            I will be rich!!

          • just doing the math

            Ah, the truth comes out, it really is not “for the children”!

    • just doing the math

      There is an interesting article published in the May 25th online edition of the Oregonian showing the US census data of Portland (and Oregon). Rupert
      may have a point, though the terminology “hipster” is incorrect. There is a dearth
      of families with children in Portland (I know, copy and paste)

      “Just 30 percent of households in Oregon have children, the lowest rate among all but seven states, according to U.S. Census data released today. The picture is even starker in Portland, where only one in four homes includes a child 17 or younger.” “Fully 36 percent of Portlanders are ages 25 to 44, the highest share among Oregon communities of at least 10,000 residents.”

      “Young people come here not to raise families but because the urban core is a place with close proximity to jobs, nightlife, good restaurants and having fun,” said Charles Rynerson, a demographer at the Portland State University Population Research Center. “Many people who come here either haven’t started a family here yet or they will somewhere else.”
      Just sort of validates why the PPS educational system needs to get with the
      program, or at least face reality. A school system design for 80,000+ students
      must be trimmed back and made more efficient. You can’t argue with the stats.

      • valley personage

        Portland school managers know the data. They have been closing multiple schools. Every school closure is resisted.

        And sooner or later, probably sooner, today’s hipster will be tomorrows parent.

        • just doing the math

          Yes, but eventually schools do re-open. Remember Jackson High School?
          Closed, left to deteriorate, and then re-opened as Jackson Middle School.
          Have you seen the property around that school? So much of it not maintained.

          And if you think that todays “hipster” which if you read my comment, is
          the wrong terminology, is going to live in Portland as a parent, think again.
          The data does not support that. Read the article. People with families are
          moving to the suburbs. 

          • valley personage

            I live in a mixed rural-suburban area. All single family homes on large lots or acreage. Not a single apartment in sight We have about the same proportion of families with kids living at home as Portland does. In our case, very few or no hipsters, but lots of aging boomers who’s kids have grown up and left the nest.

            Its probably true that some hipsters, once they settle down and have a kid or 2, will want more yard space than they can affordably find in Portland. But the ones I work with who have kids are staying put. They like Portland just fine as a place to raise their precious ones. Everyone balances various needs and wants when they choose where to live. Yard space is just one factor among many.

  • Herb_340

    Dave Lister- Excellent article “Portland has money for light rail & bike lanes, but not schools”, you are so correct and written very cleverly.  If I can only see the libtards eyes bleed when they read your article, but more importantly, they will see the wisdom and truth in what you say and join us in fight the corruption that has been ripping off EVERY Oregonian even if they didn’t know it was happening.

  • Frankray

    I was surprised and elated that the school bond was defeated.  You accurately describe here the precise reason for its defeat.  I suspect there will be another school bond vote coming in November.  Brace yourselves.

  • Pdxteacher

    Doesn’t anyone care about the children???
    What is going on in America?
    We spend more on the homeless in PDX per capita than we do on teaching our children.
    I am ashamed.

  • Pdxteacher

    I am new here and it seems like only about 12 people even read this stuff and only about 5 ever contribute.
    Is this place dead or what??
    What gives??
    Sad, really, but pretty lame.

    • wnd

      Sad, really, but pretty lame???
      Oregon Catalyst
      A place for conservative Oregonians to gather and share news, commentary.

      What’s left?   
      BlueOregon: progressive politics, news, and commentary for Oregon

      Difficulty in deciding?
      WorldNetDaily Commentary – sure to tip you in the right direction. 


      • Pdxteacher

        yes, sad and pathetic if only 10 people gather.
        Very sad. Very pathetic.
        Useless, in fact.

        • wnd

          “Yes, sad and pathetic if only 10 people gather.”

          Hmm, does this mean you’re resigned to posting exclusively at BlueOregon where at least 913 (Jonestown style) supplicants are willing to partake of your stand?

          Of course, with your PERS you can afford to be Walmart about anything. 



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