Occasional comments about business and politics in Portland, Oregon, mixed in with stories from our city's colorful if not always compliant past.
"The more pity, that fools may not speak wisely what wise men do foolishly." -- Touchstone
House Bill 2748 is one of the more curious bills in this session of the Oregon legislature. Sponsored by the Committee on Education, it would prohibit Oregon school districts from charging tuition to out-of-district students who live in Oregon. Many Oregon school districts, including Portland Public Schools, the state's largest, collect tuition from out-of-district students. The tiny Riverdale School District, sandwiched between Portland and Lake Oswego, depends on out-of-district students to keep its high school open. Forty percent of the district's students (roughly 230 of 567) come from other Oregon districts and half of those pay tuition: $5560 for kindergarten running up to $11,950 for high school.
The bill's chief proponent, Representative Sara Gelser of Corvallis, who chairs the Education Committee, didn't know about Riverdale's odd circumstances when she introduced the bill. She's agreed to amend it to grandfather Riverdale in, under some conditions. The bill is still troubling, and not just because it's a cure in search of a disease. The Riverdale grade and high schools (there is just one of each) are putting out an educational product desirable enough that parents who can't afford to live in the district will pay nearly $12,000/year to send their child there. Instead of forcing Riverdale to stop charging tuition, the Education Committee ought to be looking for ways to get other school districts to improve their own products. Shouldn't every school in Oregon be one that is worth paying for?
Riverdale does spend more on direct classroom (teaching) and classroom support than does PPS, $8749/student compared to $7195/student for Portland. It occurred to me to dig into the numbers a bit and see where the differences come from.
The first big difference is that Riverdale funds more teachers. Its student-teacher ratio is 16.8:1 compared to 19.7:1 for Portland -- 17% more teacher per student. The second difference, noticeable but not as significant financially, is that Riverdale's teachers are more educated and experienced than PPS's teachers: 88% have master's degrees (69% of PPS's do), and they have an average of 15.6 years of experience, compared to 14 years for PPS's teachers. Teachers' salaries in both districts are figured on a matrix that runs from $35,000 to $73,000; a teacher's salary increases based on years of experience and on education beyond a bachelor's degree. So the combination of education and experience results in Riverdale paying a higher salary per teacher even though the underlying matrix is similar to Portland's.
The Wall Street Journal famously identified Riverdale as the third-richest school district in the country. The Journal was not quite accurate; Riverdale has the third-highest household income of any United States school district, but that's only partly reflected in the district's finances. The Riverdale School District is discernibly richer than Portland, but not by a wide margin: despite having no commercial or industrial tax base, Riverdale has $1,007,000 of taxable real estate per student. Portland has $858,000 of taxable real estate per student.
What would bring Portland's tax funding up to Riverdale's level? Part of the difference is property value per student. The PPS system has about 47,000 students, so adding $150,000 of assessed value per student would require about $7 billion of assessed value (the value on which tax bills are based), or $10 billion of real market value (assessed value is running at about 70% of real market value). That's equal to two Intel plants and unlikely to happen. However, PPS includes at least $4.3 billion of what the state calls "excess value" in urban renewal districts established by the City of Portland. Riverdale has no urban renewal districts. Put another way, more than half the difference per student between what Riverdale taxes and what PPS taxes can be explained by Portland's urban renewal districts keeping $4.3 billion of property value from supporting the Portland Public Schools. (Some bright soul at PPS headquarters has likely worked this out.)
Part of the difference is tax rate: PPS is charging $7.26 per thousand, none of which is bonded indebtedness. Riverdale charges $8.25 per thousand, of which about a third is a bond levy for the replacement grade school it built a few years ago. If Portland taxed at Riverdale's overall rate, it would generate an additional $858 per student, which would cover the other half of the gap in classroom cost per student.
Though I don't support Representative Gelser's bill, I am grateful that her idea spurred me to look into these figures and see just how much urban renewal is costing Portland's schools. Maybe PPS will take urban renewal more seriously.
As of August 20, Multnomah County had exactly one registered voter who lives within the Hillsboro School District, which (as I discovered to my surprise) takes in a small portion of NW Skyline Road, well beyond the limits of the City of Portland but distinctly within Multnomah County.
I've followed with some interest the efforts of the City of Portland and Portland State University to create an urban renewal district that would encompass, among other not very blighted areas, the buildings and grounds of Lincoln High School. (Professor Bogdanski has commented in some detail on the City's efforts, here and here.)
I don't begrudge Portland State trying to get something for itself, not just because state support of higher education has dwindled so dramatically in the last twenty years. I am, however, mystified by the participation of the Portland School Board in a process that would move Lincoln High School somewhere else, at great expense, for the Lincoln High School building is, I think, the second-newest Portland public high school, having been built in 1952. Only Wilson is newer.
It's true that the Lincoln building is 60 years old, but it's still modern by Portland standards: a little Googling shows that the new portion of Cleveland opened in 1948, Roosevelt opened in 1921, and Franklin opened in 1917. Rich as the Lincoln parents may be, the school district has facilities needs far more pressing than rebuilding LIncoln. Metaphorically speaking, it would be gratifying to see the school board insist that no matter how much it may desire a facelift, Lincoln must defer to its elders.
In the last few years there have been calls -- not only by lawyers -- to reduce the number of law schools in America, because too many law school graduates can't find jobs as lawyers. Here's an example from 2009, by Professor Stephen Bainbridge of UCLA. Law schools that can't place a large portion of their graduates -- at least half to two-thirds -- at a law firm, with government, or in a judicial clerkship are scorned as being failures.
So: why is it that a law school that places only (say) 50% of its graduates in law jobs is a failure, but a football program that places only 5% of its graduates in football jobs is a success? Maybe it's because only 1.7% of NCAA college football seniors even get drafted by an NFL team, a remarkably dismal placement record that would get any non-athletic department laughed off campus.
Labor Day does double duty in childful households of being the last day of summer vacation, the day before the first full day of school. In past years I've marked the occasion with an apposite quotation in memory of Grandmother Laquedem, who carried her support for the working classes to the point of dying on Labor Day itself, some years ago. (Cigarettes, rather than protest songs, were the actual culprit.)
This year, instead, I offer a passage from A.P. Herbert's essay, "What is Education?" As with many of his essays, it's in the form of a judicial opinion set in the 1930s. Mr. and Mrs. Bloggs, operators of two cargo boats on the canals between Birmingham and London, have been charged with not sending their children to elementary school, and in their defense they ask the question, "What is elementary education?" as defined in the Education Acts of Great Britain. The government asks the court to say that elementary education is "education in those elementary subjects which are ordinarily taught to our defenceless children, as reading, writing, and arithmetic." Mr. and Mrs. Bloggs argue that "elementary education" means education in "the elements or first parts to be learned of any subject which may be useful or necessary to the good citizen in that state of life for which he is destined by Providence, heredity, or inclination." The court describes the education of the Bloggs children as follows:
Now, the children of Mr. Bloggs, though they have not attended a school, have already acquired the rudiments of their father's and grandfather's trade, that is to say, the handling of boats and the navigation of canals; they are able in an emergency to steer a boat into a lock, to open or close a lock-gate, to make bowlines and reef-knots, clove hitches and fisherman's bends, and to do many other useful and difficult things which the members of this Court, we admit, are unable to do. Mr. and Mrs. Bloggs are instructing them slowly in reading and writing, and even, with reluctance, it seems, in arithmetic. It is not contended that in these subjects they are so far advanced as children of the same age who attend the public elementary schools; on the other hand, the evidence is that those children are quire unable to make a bowline-on-a-bight, to distinguish between the port and starboard sides of a vessel, or to steer the smallest boat into the largest lock without disaster.
As to what the Bloggs children cannot do, the court says:
They are unable, it is true, to read fluently the accounts of murder trials in the Sunday newspapers; they cannot write their names upon the walls of lavatories and public monuments; they do not understand the calculation of odds or the fluctuations of stocks and shares. But these acquirements may come in time. * * * As for writing, there is too much writing in our country as it is; and it is a satisfaction to contemplate three children who in all probability will never become novelists nor write for the papers.
I read with great interest the Oregonian's recent coverage of rapes and sexual assaults at Reed College, and the school's response to complaints by women students. The article said that Reed discouraged women who reported being sexually assaulted from reporting the crimes to police, but urged them to present their complaints to student-run honor boards.
A school such as Reed, that attracts a diverse group of brainy intellectuals, must get a number of 17-year-olds among its entering classes. Chapter 419B, Oregon Revised Statutes, requires certain groups of people, including all school employees, licensed professional counselors, psychologists, regulated social workers, and physicians to report suspected incidents of child abuse. "Child" means an unmarried person under the age of 18, and "abuse" includes rape, sexual abuse, and unlawful exposure to a controlled substance that subjects a child to a substantial risk of harm to the child's health or welfare.
So if a 17-year-old Reed student tells an employee of the college that she has been sexually assaulted, Reed's employee has a duty to report the charge to the police and not just to the honor board at Reed College. A Reed employee who knows of a charge of sexual assault but fails to report to the police has committed a Class A violation (ORS 419B.010). I'm assuming that a college is a "school" -- ORS Chapter 419B requires school employees to report suspected child abuse but does not define "school" -- but as Reed's website describes Reed students entering from high school and going on to law school or medical school, Reed must consider itself a school also.
There's unfortunately no similar statute to protect 18-year-olds at Reed, but it sounds from the newspaper reports as if the school should ensure that its employees know their legal duties to protect minor students. As I read the statute, they also have a duty to report to the police information that 17-year-old students are in the presence of illegal drugs, but I doubt that Portland's finest have enough officers to deal with the influx of calls that would result.
Portland State University is about to announce that Condoleezza Rice, formerly national security advisor and then secretary of state to President Bush (43), has accepted PSU's invitation to be the principal speaker at this year's Simon Benson Awards dinner, the university's main fundraising and recognition event. Friendly persuasion from some of our elected officials helped make her decision an easy one.
Eleven months ago when Bob Moore (pictured here, the founder of Bob's Red Mill Natural Foods, the Milwaukie purveyor of stone-ground whole grain products) announced that he and the other shareholders were transferring their stock to an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) so that his employees would all have the chance to become owners of the company, a few skeptics (see the comments here) pointed out that he and his wife Charlee weren't making a gift to the employees; the ESOP would be paying the Moores for their shares over time.
Last week the Clackamas Reviewreported on what Mr. and Mrs. Moore are doing with a large chunk of their proceeds: they're giving $5 million to Oregon State University to establish a program on nutrition and encourage healthy eating. (Bob, who turns 82 next month, is himself the best advertisement for the diet he encourages. Don't ask him what he thinks of the Atkins diet if children are present.)
Bob and Charlee Moore are a class act. We're lucky to have them in our community.