Mayor Charlie Hales' office has some good news for school districts warned earlier this year to expect only partial allotments of arts tax money meant to help them hire new teachers: After a string of court rulings declaring the $35 tax perfectly legal, city hall has decided to send out full allotments as promised.
"The consensus here at City Hall is that the risk is now low enough," spokesman Dana Haynes says, "we can revert to the original plan."
The word went out in an email today from policy adviser Noah Siegel to school superintendents:
I am pleased to report that after extensive discussions and consultations, Portland City Council has decided that we will be able to disburse the Arts Education Access Fund for this year in the full amount. This means that Council will not take any action to amend the existing MOUs for this year, and disbursement will continue as planned (the first installment in fall 2013, the second in early spring 2014).
It is the view of a majority of Council that after three court rulings in our favor, the risks are now sufficiently low to implement fully the measure passed by voters in November. We very much appreciate your understanding of our earlier predicament during a difficult budget cycle, and the spirit of cooperation that prevailed.
Your willingness to shoulder the risk together allowed us to move forward.
The mayor understands that this process has not aligned perfectly with your hiring schedules. That said, he hopes that all the districts will now be able to hire art and music teachers at the full levels outlined in the MOUs. Given that revenues for the schools have been collected in full, it is of the highest importance that we maintain good faith with the voters by making sure this translates into teaching positions.
Thanks to those of you who presented budgets to the Arts Oversight Committee. It is their job to report to Council on implementation of the tax, so we appreciate your ongoing engagement.
I am very happy to deliver such good news. Best of luck to everyone in the new school year.
At least one of those challenges, by tax law professor Jack Bogdanski, is still alive. Bogdanski has appealed a defeat in Oregon Tax Court. But Hales and city commissioners are feeling good enough that they're willing to tear up a deal made in May: an offer of half of the money promised, with contingencies for how to pay that money back if it never materialized.
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