Portland Voters Back Tax Levy To Fund Teachers In Oregon's Largest District

By Elizabeth Miller (OPB)
Portland, Ore. Nov. 6, 2019 1:45 p.m.
Portland Public Schools district headquarters at 550 N. Wheeler Place in Portland, Oregon, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018.

Portland Public Schools district headquarters at 550 N. Wheeler Place in Portland, Oregon, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018.

Bradley W. Parks / OPB

Voters will let Portland Public Schools continue to charge a tax levy that supports one-third of the district’s teaching positions.


Early returns Tuesday showed the levy passing by a wide margin.

Last year, the levy produced $93.3 million and paid for 870 teachers. For the 2020-2021 school year, it’s projected to raise $99.9 million.

“With this measure we’ll have the ability to fund at least 800 teachers next year, whether they’re classroom teachers, reading specialists,” said PPS board co-chair Julia Brim-Edwards. “Each one of those teachers will make a huge difference for our students.”


Taxpayers won't see a difference on their bills, because the levy renewal means the tax rate remains the same for five more years at $1.99 per $1,000 of assessed value. The typical homeowner will pay $465 per year or $39 a month.

A citizen committee will oversee the spending and ensure funds are spent appropriately.

Now that the levy has been renewed, board members in Oregon's largest school district are looking ahead to asking voters for another in a series of bond measures on the fall 2020 ballot.

Newly elected board member Andrew Scott chairs the board’s School Improvement Bond committee.

“We are having discussions right now as a board about whether we’re going to go forward in 2020 with a bond and if we do -- how large that’s bond going to be and what it going to cover,” Scott said. “Our goal as a district is to try and keep the tax rate where it is currently, but we’ve got a lot of work to do over the next few months to figure that out.”

Once the board decides what to do about 2020, Scott says they'll engage with voters and community members to talk about priorities and accountability efforts for bond projects going forward. The district's bond approved by voters in 2017 went significantly over budget, forcing changes to its construction plans and led to a critical outside audit.

The board is also in the middle of finalizing plans for how the district will spend a projected $39 million from a commercial activities tax. The funds are part of the Student Success Act, a bill passed by the legislature that will produce $1 billion annually to Oregon education.

“I feel very confident that the district’s on the right track,” said Brim-Edwards. “We’re going to be able to accelerate the work in terms of supporting our students, closing achievement gaps where they exist, helping struggling students, and making sure that every student who leaves our school district is ready for their next steps.”