Yes on school levy

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board May 03, 2011 04:59 pm

The way we pay for our public schools is a complex issue, in large part because it’s not only a local issue.

The state supplies a bit more than half of the money to operate the Baker School District. That means the budget for our local schools is affected by what happens inside the Capitol in Salem as well as decisions made in the district office on Fourth Street in Baker City.

But the matter before voters in the Baker School District in the May 17 election is not only decidedly local, it’s also comparatively simple.


If voters reject the five-year local option tax levy on the ballot, there will be fewer teachers in our classrooms this fall.

District officials estimate that without the $725,000 per year the property tax levy would raise, they would need to lay off 10 to 14 teachers.

That’s in addition to about eight teachers who likely will be laid off regardless of the outcome of the election.

That’s bad.

It’s bad for students because class sizes would increase.

It’s bad for the county’s economy because hundreds of thousands of dollars of payroll, some of which ends up in the tills of local businesses, would be lost.

These effects are sufficiently severe that we urge voters to check the “yes” box on their ballot for the school levy.

Ballots for the by-mail election will be sent Friday.

Our endorsement of the levy is not without reservation.

In late February we suggested the school district staff and board try to negotiate across-the-board compensation cuts with the district’s two unions. That, combined with equal cuts for administrators and other non-union employees, could balance the budget without requiring significant layoffs or a tax levy.

That’s not going to happen.

This bothers us.

The reality, though, is that voting against the levy to punish district officials for failing to bargain aggressively would also punish students.

They don’t deserve to be punished for matters beyond their control.

Although we’re loathe to support any tax increase in these trying economic times, the school levy has the advantage of being very progressive.

For the owners of almost one-quarter of the properties in the district — 2,327 of 10,108 — the levy would not increase their tax bill at all.

That’s because Oregon voters, in 1990, passed Measure 5. It limits the amount property owners can pay for education, creating a tax ceiling known as “compression.” Those 2,237 properties are already at the Measure 5 limit.

For the owners of another 51 percent of properties, the school levy would result in a yearly increase of $100 or less.

Put another way, the levy would boost the annual tax bill by more than $100 for just 26 percent of properties in the district.

We don’t mean to imply the levy wouldn’t be a burden on anybody.

An estimated 57 property owners would pay $1,000 to $5,500 more per year; for another 176, the annual increase would be between $500 and $1,000.

Although those properties have a higher-than-average value for Baker County, that doesn’t necessarily mean their owners are flush with cash.

But there’s certainly a correlation between property value and income, which means the school levy will have little or no effect on those residents least able to afford a bigger tax tab.