Following the Money: the Big Picture

by Steve, September 2nd, 2007

schoolsFolks have asked me to enhance my neighborhood divestment map with demographic data and the locations of schools. Great ideas I intend to work on as I have time.

But I want to keep looking at another important angle for a bit. At the macro level, a level removed from the complicated business of actually educating the unwashed masses (a.k.a. tomorrow’s tax payers), it’s all about economics. Specifically real estate.

Our school board is vested with the power to distribute state general fund money. As I’ve clearly shown, they currently take tens of millions of dollars a year out of our poorest neighborhoods and lavish it on neighborhoods with some of the most expensive real estate in town. Any real estate broker will tell you that one of the critical elements in pricing and selling a house is neighborhood schools. (Even with open transfers, it’s rare to see a real estate listing that doesn’t mention schools.)

The bottom line, intended or not, is that PPS policy is enhancing property values in our richest neighborhoods and holding down values in working class and poor neighborhoods.

Everyone who owns property in Portland has a dog in this fight, even if they don’t have school-aged children.

So, who’s got the most interest in keeping the existing transfer policy? Those who own property in the green zone, with or without children in school.

(Click image for a larger view, including a key to school board members)
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Here’s my map with school board members superimposed over the zones they live in and represent. No surprise that David Wynde and Bobbie Regan are mostly in the green. They were among Vicki Phillips’ strongest supporters, and seem to have bought in to her corporate grant-funded, market-based schools agenda more than anybody. Now that we see graphically how this policy benefits their net worth, it’s really no surprise they’ve been so unfailing in their support of it.

Most other board members have small pieces of green in their zone (with the notable exception of Dan Ryan), but the vast majority of green falls in Wynde’s and Regan’s zones.

What I’d like to see is the other board members making some noise about this. In the most cynical sense, shouldn’t they be trying to bring home some bacon, too?

Honestly, this is a fundamental issue of economic fairness. Beyond the school board’s duty to educate our children, they have an ethical responsibility to distribute state tax revenue in a way that provides the most benefit to the most people. Current PPS policy clearly benefits owners of property in the hottest real estate markets in Portland to the detriment of the rest of us.

Make no mistake, this is about class. How can a “progressive” city like Portland allow this to continue? I know folks who live in the green zone don’t have much interest in changing things, but what about everybody else? Will we continue to let the board steal this economic benefit from us without so much as a peep?