SCHOOL SIZE BILL JUST PLAIN WACKY
Sen. Peter Courtney, D-Salem, has served in the Oregon Legislature for what might seem like an eternity.
Don't let that silver-colored hair fool you. Courtney is a seasoned veteran of the political battles that make up the Salem landscape and seeing him come out on top in 2003 as Senate president shouldn't be a surprise.
EVEN WHEN the Senate is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, Courtney is recognized for his ability to work behind the scenes to get things done and has been able to walk the tightrope well enough to get the support needed from Republicans to become the leader of the Senate.
So for all of Courtney's smarts, why would he introduce Senate Bill 66? The legislation would limit the number of students who could attend a single high school in Oregon to 800. If that isn't wacky enough, the bill includes provisions for limiting elementary schools to 400 students and middle schools to 500 students. One reason is because his wife, a former teacher, asked him to do so.
THIS PROPOSAL IS reminiscent of the well-intentioned idea to limit classroom sizes to 20 students. It's wonderful for a teacher to have 20 or fewer students to work with, particularly in the lower grades. But being well-intentioned doesn't make it feasible or right.
In Eastern Oregon, there are lots of high schools that have fewer than 800 students, but in many cases it is because the economy has forced families to move away.
In the metropolitan areas, where most of the school growth has taken place over the past decade, it would mean that local taxpayers would be forced to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build new facilities to meet the demands of the bill. Even in the best of times, it would create such a financial burden it could force people into tax poverty.
THE SUPERINTENDENT of the David Douglas School District is quoted as saying, "If funding is of no concern, it's a wonderful educational idea." It's hard to imagine when Oregon would be in the financial condition to support a plan like SB66, unless a Democratically controlled Legislature and governor were able to push off a new funding mechanism that would cost taxpayers billions in new taxes.
By suggesting SB66, Courtney must be trying to raise the issue of classroom or school size now so that it can become an issue down the road. Why else would he introduce such a bill? Let's hope it isn't an indicator of his true leadership. If so, the Senate could be headed for a dismal session.
Courtney should withdraw SB66 and get down to doing something really valuable, like solving the PERS problem or helping Oregon's businesses increase jobs.