Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Visionaries don't "see" needed City/Schools consolidation

For the past few days I have been sifting through hundreds of visionPDX comments on school funding. You may recall that I am one of 30 or so volunteers reviewing written responses to 13,000 questionnaires completed in the summer.

My assigned areas are higher education, educational opportunity and school funding.

Virtually all of the respondents want stable, reliable, adequate funding for Portland's schools. They are weary of putting Band-aids on the problem. A few call for a more accountable school board.

Well and good.

But virtually none of the comments call for consolidating city and school governance. Without such consolidation, comments about the schools that are addressed to the city fall on deaf ears. The City is quite separate from, and often at odds with, the Portland school district.

The same disconnect is true of comments about social services and the library. Those are responsibilities of Multnomah County, yet another autonomous government. More consolidation is needed for "county issues" to be brought into the City's purview.

And yet all these issues should be of huge concern to the city as a whole, as many respondents point out. Many note that the very future of the city is dependent on an educated citizenry. Without first-rate schools, families will flee to the suburbs. Many already are.

In effect, Portland must get its governments under one roof, one large enough to combine the City, the schools, the County, and, yes TriMet and, to some extent, Metro.

Logically consolidation of governments should be a recommendation of the Mayor's charter review commission. Unfortunately the commission is blindly proceeding with its work without paying attention to the needs, stated or implied, by visionPDX respondents.

Clearly, the mayor, who inspired these laudable initiatives, desperately needs to get everyone on the same page.


Blogger Eamon said...

I think merging the school districts (there are 5 school districts that are either completely or partially in the city) with city government is a bad idea. School districts need a board that is focused solely on education. When NYC took over the school district in the early 1990s, the schools became a political tool for the mayor to use in his fights with the City Council. The supposed efficiency gains never happened and the squabbling between the education staff and the political leaders continued.

The city and the school districts could and should do a better job working together particularly in land use planning. But we don't need all the entities under one legal authority to do that.

11:20 AM  
Blogger Rick Seifert said...

Portland is Portland; New York is New York. Besides, I'm underwhelmed by the performance of the Portland School Board.

10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would also agree that combining school districts with the city is not the right strategy. As for people leaving the city for the suburbs - schools are only one reason. House prices are significantly lower in the suburbs, taxes are lower, and services such as garbage and water are also less expensive (based on my experiences as a Beaverton resident).

11:00 PM  

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