Neglecting the Basics

Portland is proud of being a livable city. Sure, its streets are crumbling, city buildings are neglected, and its schools are crappy. But don’t worry; it’s a livable city.

The Portland Building in August 1982. Photo by Steve Morgan.

A building so ugly that Willamette Week newspaper uses the “ugly” tag for any article that refers to it.

The Antiplanner noted last February that the city’s transportation bureau elected to give up on street paving and repair so that it could fund streetcars. The latest news is that the city isn’t even property maintaining its buildings, including the internationally famous (for being ugly) Portland building. The city has just over half the money it needs to keep this and other city buildings maintained.

Another recent news story revealed that Oregon has the fourth-worst high-school graduation rate in the nation. Just two out of three high school students earn a diploma in four years. Oregon’s record is brought down by Portland schools, where the graduation rate is just 59 percent, which is “well behind those of districts with similar levels of student poverty.”

An even more recent evaluation ranked Oregon’s K-12 system as the tenth worst in the nation. No doubt the dismal performance of Portland’s schools brought the average down.

Some might reply that the city government has little to do with the school district. But it does: all of the hundreds of millions of dollars spent out of tax-increment financing is money taken from schools and other property-tax-dependent districts.

Portland has a new mayor who has historically supported streetcars and TODs over streets and schools. But, who knows? He may just figure out that the city can’t go on spending on Disneyland rides while neglecting funding for basic maintenance and essential services such as schools.

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25 thoughts on “Neglecting the Basics

  1. LazyReader

    One would think Portland’s financially strapped schools would be a unintended blessing. There is a coralation between school spending and student performance. Typically negative. School spending has gone through the roof in terms of real dollars since the 1950’s and overall test scores have not grown to match that trend. Union leaders first. Teachers second. Kids third. Or maybe fourth or fifth, after the school board, the principal’s union, or some other part of the Blob. It would be a funny name if not for it’s description “the blob” the never ending, imdestructable unmoving association made up of the various unions and bureaucracies that maintain this financial foul up. smack into federations, alliances, departments, councils, boards, commissions, panels, herds, flocks and convoys, that make up the education industrial complex, or the Blob. Most of the best schools in the United States are Catholic Schools who are doing a great job for less than half the money public schools are spending. The question is, what’s the middle man. Too little money and Portland’s schools are crap; too much money and America’s schools are crap. What’s the middle ground.

  2. C. P. Zilliacus

    The Antiplanner wrote:

    Another recent news story revealed that Oregon has the fourth-worst high-school graduation rate in the nation. Just two out of three high school students earn a diploma in four years. Oregon’s record is brought down by Portland schools, where the graduation rate is just 59 percent, which is “well behind those of districts with similar levels of student poverty.”

    An even more recent evaluation ranked Oregon’s K-12 system as the tenth worst in the nation. No doubt the dismal performance of Portland’s schools brought the average down.

    When elected officials get obsessed about transit, transit-oriented land use and discouraging the use of private automobiles, some of the blowback from such policies seems to invariably hit the public schools. Families with children don’t usually wish to live the “transit-oriented” lifestyle that the politicians want to impose, so they move elsewhere (frequently even further out, worsening “sprawl”).

    In eastern Montgomery County, Maryland, I have told readers here some of the sordid tale of a catastrophic land use plan adopted in 1981, which centered around building as many apartment buildings and other high-density development as possible (using transferable development rights to preserve open space in the county’s wealthy and fashionable Agricultural Preserve) , under the assumption that the residents of the apartments would take transit. The transportation assumptions of this plan were deeply flawed (it was superceded in 1997, but much of the damage remains), but the impact on the public schools was worse. Because of the transient nature of apartments, the elementary school that was built to serve the apartments became one of the most-segregated schools in the county school district (Maryland has countywide school districts), and with the highest rate of student turnover (or as the educators like to call it, “pupil mobility”). So the school district had to divide the apartments up into several smaller subdistricts and bus the students from the apartments to to other elementary schools that were not (and are not) within walking distance of their apartments.

  3. C. P. Zilliacus

    LazyReader wrote:

    Most of the best schools in the United States are Catholic Schools who are doing a great job for less than half the money public schools are spending.

    But when discussing Catholic schools (or any other parochial or private schools), remember that they are under no legal obligation to educate disruptive or disabled students, and they usually do not. I recall from my days as a public school student that some of the worst and most disruptive children were those that had been expelled from the local Catholic school.

  4. Sandy Teal

    If a city wants to save money, it needs to cater to families without kids. Schools are a money loser for cities. The little rugrats must be forced out to the suburbs and only invited back to the inner city when they are DINKS with lots of disposable income. A subsidy for public transit , cycles, and hacky sack parks is tiny compared to what it costs to educate a few rugrats.

  5. C. P. Zilliacus

    Sandy Teal posted:

    If a city wants to save money, it needs to cater to families without kids. Schools are a money loser for cities. The little rugrats must be forced out to the suburbs and only invited back to the inner city when they are DINKS with lots of disposable income. A subsidy for public transit , cycles, and hacky sack parks is tiny compared to what it costs to educate a few rugrats.

    Perhaps that was one of the ideas behind Philadelphia’s Gayborhood? However, I don’t think the Gayborhood was established through the actions of Philadelphia’s municipal planners or its elected officials.

    Though I suppose gay people can also have those expensive children (see modern family).

  6. Frank

    PPS spends about $12000 per student and perhaps as much as $15000 per student; how much more is needed?

    K-12 funding has increased at every level, even when adjusted for enrollment and inflation. Only two other OECD nations spend more per student, and one (Norway) only marginally more.

    Utah spends less per student, but has a higher grad rate.

    It ain’t all about the money.

    http://goo.gl/PYniI
    http://www2.ed.gov/about/overview/fed/10facts/index.html

  7. C. P. Zilliacus

    Frank wrote:

    PPS spends about $12000 per student and perhaps as much as $15000 per student; how much more is needed?

    Isn’t that in part a function of how expensive housing is in Portland? Teachers usually need a place to live.

    And I am making a value judgement here, but I would much rather spend tax money to educate future taxpayers than funding expansion of ineffective legacy transportation technology systems like TriMet’s light rail – and its extremely generously compensated workforce. Nor do I like subsidizing swank apartment buildings in the Pearl District with taxpayer dollars (which is what tax increment financing (TIF) effectively is).

    K-12 funding has increased at every level, even when adjusted for enrollment and inflation. Only two other OECD nations spend more per student, and one (Norway) only marginally more.

    Where does Finland rank? I am biased (3/4 Finnish), but their schools are often considered some of the best among Western nations.

  8. Frank

    “Isn’t that in part a function of how expensive housing is in Portland?”

    Is it? Back up your assertion. Portland teachers on average make the same as Seattle teachers. (Using my tablet so I am too lazy right now to link this.) Anecdotally, I rented a nice craftsman house in PDX for 1200 and a nice duplex for 900. In Seattle those might cost 1800 and 1400 respectively. Portland is far chapter than Seattle, LA, SF, SD.

  9. C. P. Zilliacus

    Frank wrote:

    Is it? Back up your assertion. Portland teachers on average make the same as Seattle teachers. (Using my tablet so I am too lazy right now to link this.) Anecdotally, I rented a nice craftsman house in PDX for 1200 and a nice duplex for 900. In Seattle those might cost 1800 and 1400 respectively. Portland is far chapter than Seattle, LA, SF, SD.

    Frank, I was asking, not asserting.

  10. C. P. Zilliacus

    Frank, to clarify, I was suggesting that Portland Metro’s land use policies have caused the price of housing (and especially single-family detached housing that many people, including teachers prefer to reside in) to rise, and that has in turn pushed-up the cost of employing teachers. That housing in Portland is (in relative terms) cheaper than other metropolitan areas on the West Coast is fine (and I am not interested in disputing that), but my assertion was that inflated home prices (even if not as inflated as in San Francisco, Los Angeles or Seattle) still leads to the requirement to pay better salaries to public employees, including teachers.

  11. Frank

    Home prices are not highly inflated by land use policies in PDX or Seattle. This has been discussed son many times on this blog. Funny that the housing bubble and housing prices skyrocketed between 2001 and 2009 during the same period of ultra low interest rates. I was part of the mortgage boom working as an MLP in PDX. Loan after loan after loan. The work increased exponentially. Look at the parcel viewer for PDX and assessment values. Some DOUBLED during this time period. No way in hell that was due primarily to land use policy; it was primarily monetary policy. I don’t know if there is evidence of the housing bubble resulting in significant increases in teacher pay. Listen, housing prices will ALWAYS be higher in cities, especially those with geographical constraints and awesome amenities (like PDX and Seattle). Teachers in my Podunk east-side, Great Basin high school, where you can get a nice house for $600 a month–no shit–don’t make much less than teachers in Portland.

    This all comes down to the unanswered question. With PPS spending $12k to $15k per student and SPS spending $20k per student, how much is enough?

  12. sprawl

    Frank said
    Home prices are not highly inflated by land use policies in PDX or Seattle.
    ——————————————————

    I know lots of people in the Portland area that were so afraid they could not find a house to buy, they were jumping on houses, before the price went up or someone else out bid them. Mostly driven by the shortage of buildable lots, caused by the land use policies.

  13. Dan

    Mostly driven by the shortage of buildable lots, caused by the land use policies.

    The zombie belief that won’t die. And as Frank said, this has been explained scores of times on this site.

    DS

  14. sprawl

    Dan said
    The zombie belief that won’t die. And as Frank said, this has been explained scores of times on this site.
    ————————–

    Thanks for another third grade level response.

  15. Frank

    Shortage of buildable lots? Because you can’t build in Laurelhurst Park or hilly Forest Park? Because the vast majority of easily built land was developed and built on in the early 20th century? We’re talking PDX city limits here, where there are more amenities and higher demand. One can always move to grizzly Gresham where rents are dirt cheap because it sucks and demand is low and buildable land is still readily available. You can rent a townhouse in nasty Gresham for only 600 a month. Just don’t let your wife work at Starbucks and install bars on your windows.

  16. sprawl

    Gresham was a nice area before they built the light rail line and the planners mandated high density developments along the line.

    Gresham is a great example of how the planners took a area down and won’t take credit for it.
    Thanks for reminding us.

  17. Dan

    Thanks for another third grade level response.

    And thank you for being sad and having no response to finding out the statement was a rehash of an old zombie belief.

    That is: no basis in reality.

    DS

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