Saturday, October 19, 2013

Vote Yes On The Bond-- For The Right Reasons

Soon we will all be receiving ballots in the mail to vote on the new bond requested by the Hillsboro School District.  I will be voting yes on this bond, although I didn't sign the statement in the voter pamphlet.  This is because I disagree with several elements of the "conventional" pro-bond reasoning, and didn't feel the printed statement accurately reflected my views.

First of all, my reasoning does not involve the claim that it's "for technology and public safety". I'm very tired of the gimmick played by government bodies at all levels, where they withhold funding from something that's politically popular, and then announce that they need more taxes to fund these critical items. The bond funds will amount to a tiny portion of our district's annual budget, which means we could have moved funding from numerous other things into at least a partial funding of these technology and safety goals. Perhaps adding terms to the bond for "staff raises, district website upgrades, and diversity consultants" would have made it sound less compelling? We should recognize the bond for what it is, a request for a supplement to the district's general fund, and judge it on that basis.

My Yes vote also is not because of the commonly-heard sentiment that "we've been cutting the budget forever, and our schools are being starved for funds". As you can see at this link, overall inflation-adjusted, per-capita Oregon school spending has been increasing without bound for half a century, and any occasional cuts are just a minor blip in that overall trend. Don't let all the public hand-wringing about cuts convince you otherwise.

We also need to recognize that the money in the bond isn't magically created from nothing-- it is real money taken from the working people of our district, during very challenging financial times for our families. To quote a school board member facing a similar issue in another district (Dan Christensen of Gresham), "make no mistake, for many families and businesses... property tax rates will indeed be a sacrifice. While saying, ‘it’s-only-a-latte-a-day’ makes for a catchy talking point, it’s not so trivial to the barista who depends on all those daily latte’s for job and livelihood... Passage of the bond will result in the obvious economic benefit... What will be less visible, but just as deeply impacting, are the thousands of decisions to forego pizza night, that morning latte, the extra birthday or Christmas gift and the far-reaching ripple effect of those decisions on local businesses. "   This kind of effect on the economy will come to impact local children, and we must not forget that this is what we are offsetting against the needs to improve our schools.

So... this being said, why do I think we should support this bond for the Hillsboro schools? I find two key arguments compelling:

1. HSD is being squeezed by the utter failure of our state government to effectively rein in PERS, resulting in effective undeserved cuts to available classroom funds. More and more of our money is used to fulfill impractical and overly generous promises to retirees. Plenty has been written on this topic elsewhere, so I don't think I need to go into too much detail here. But just remember as you vote yes on the bond, that if you don't want to be passing new bonds like this every year, you must also send a clear message to our state government at next year's election that this situation cannot continue. We need to end this pattern to support the long-term economic health of Hillsboro's families and our schools.

2. HSD is taking real action to make better use of its public funds, to provide increasing educational effectiveness while reducing costs. A key example here is the Hillsboro Online Academy (, the first public non-charter online academy in Oregon. Experience in many districts has shown that, while online education is not for everyone, the students who it does serve can be educated in a much more cost-effective manner without sacrificing quality. As we increase the availability of this option to more children in HSD, we have a real shot at reining in costs in an innovative and exciting way.

Before you vote on the bond measure, whatever position you decide on, please be sure to think carefully about the reasons. In the end, I will be voting Yes for the bond, and invite you to join me.

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