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Local taxes not the answer

Temporarily, local school support is fine, but don't change state law

The Legislative session is barely under way, and already school supporters are arguing that school districts should be allowed to ask local voters for more money.

That's not a bad thing in itself; schools need more money than they're getting, and local voters may be willing to pay a little more when it's their own schools that will benefit. We have urged local school and community leaders to explore that option here.

But in the long run, it's a step in the wrong direction. And we're reluctant to encourage changing the law to allow districts to ask for more local tax dollars.

First, many localities around the state already can find creative ways to shore up school finances under existing laws.

Ashland is a case in point ' there, the city, which had room under its property tax cap, asked voters to approve a youth activities levy and turned the money over to the school district to fund programs the district no longer could afford. Using the levy for sports, music and other activities frees up dollars from the district budget to retain teachers and reduce academic class sizes.

In Multnomah County, voters approved a temporary local income tax to support schools.

— Last year, after school districts here started implementing pay-to-play systems for athletics and cut back on music instruction, we said Medford should follow Ashland's lead. We still think that would make sense, at least temporarily.

But changing state law to allow local property tax levies for school operating expenses such as teacher salaries strikes us a giant step backward.

Lawmakers from rural parts of the state with lower property values and smaller tax bases are afraid their schools would be left behind as richer districts raised more money. They fear a return to the days of unequal school funding between rural and urban districts. So do we.

We understand that districts are frustrated with inadequate state support. And there is little chance of restoring lost funding in the new biennial budget lawmakers will adopt this year.

But let's not be too eager to turn the clock back to the days when every district struggled to pass a local levy every year just to keep the doors open.