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Loud and clear

Oregon Editors Say

The Legislature should heed voters' message that they support schools

The Oregonian

One message rang true Tuesday night across Oregon. People in every corner of the state, from urban Portland and suburban Beaverton to rural Joseph, value their local schools. The details of Tuesday's outcomes are a jumble of contradictions.

But state leaders would be hard-pressed to scan the political landscape and see anything but frustrated, determined, loyal citizens who care deeply about public education in Oregon. State legislators and Gov. Ted Kulongoski should hear that message and proceed confidently with solutions that reach every Oregon community.

Suburban Beaverton scored the biggest margin of victory Tuesday night. Backers were nervous because Washington County had rejected statewide Measure 28 in January. Moreover, by draining its reserve, the Beaverton district had managed to absorb most of the state cuts this year.

But voters understood the stakes.

— They passed a three-year local property tax by 60 percent, sending a resoundingly positive message to local schools and businesses. Rural Joseph came next, with 58 percent of voters approving a local school tax.

People in this northeast pocket of the state suffer from high unemployment but are fiercely proud of their investment in the arts and worried about the demise of their small school district. They dug deep and came through. Unofficial tallies put 585 people voting yes, with 425 of their neighbors saying no.

Urban Multnomah County matched that 58 percent in passing a three-year, 1.25 percent personal income tax increase to support schools, social services and jails. This was the state's most closely watched measure: State leaders would've lost all heart for reforming taxes or raising state revenue if voters in Oregon's largest county had said no. Voters said yes.

They also said yes in Ashland, by roughly 78 percent, to renewing a local-option property tax for school activities such as music, sports and drama. In fact, the only trouncings happened in three tiny school systems ' Gervais, Scappoose and Crane Elementary. Greater Albany also failed solidly, with about 55 percent voting no.

But the votes in Sherman County, Condon, Reedsport and Canby were close ' in some cases, too close to call.

In 12 elections Tuesday, across county lines and district boundaries, about 170,000 Oregon voters said yes to schools, and about 124,000 said no, in early tallies. That's noteworthy in any economy. In this economy, it's impressive.

Voters are willing to protect Oregon's investment in education, even as their own investments falter. Some say Tuesday's local energy puts pressure on the governor and legislators to find a statewide solution. Others say it takes pressure off.

In a strange way, both are true. Many say this election is a turning point and a happy moment for Oregon. Also true. But Oregon may be sliding, out of desperate necessity, back toward the 1980s, when districts had vastly different resources to do the same vital job. That's not progress.

People can't watch their schools and the economy sink forever while the state sits, stunned. As Oregon voters made clear, failure is not a local option.