As Initiative presents to Metro Council, discussion about education element dominates
Metro councilors gave most of the Community Investment Initiative's initial plans a thumbs up Thursday, saying they were impressed with the work the group has put together in the past year.
Four members of the initiative's Leadership Council – Randy Miller, Joe Rodriguez, Burton Weast and Karen Williams – were at a Metro Council work session Thursday to get feedback from the elected officials on their initial plan.
Councilors seemed sold on the initiative's efforts to strengthen financing for infrastructure projects, streamline development in communities and improve transportation funding. Weast, one of the co-chairs of the Leadership Council, spent about 20 minutes explaining the infrastructure aspects of the program, which prompted little discussion from the council.
But the initiative's proposal to look at education in the region drew mixed messages from councilors – some said go big, while others said go home.
Councilor Barbara Roberts said she was concerned about the education piece because it ignores what she said was a larger, systemic problem of education funding in Oregon.
In the wake of Measure 5, in particular, Roberts said the state's schools have gotten worse; meanwhile, several groups have come forth with proposals on how to solve a perceived education crisis.
Any discussion about education, she said, should involve conversations about funding.
To that, councilors Carlotta Collette and Shirley Craddick warned about Metro getting involved in something not in its bailiwick.
"Metro is often criticized for mission creep," Craddick said. "Funding for schools, I don't think that's something that's Metro's responsibility… We have such a huge need just for the infrastructure for roads and sewer systems and the other things Metro gets engaged with."
Collette said the Leadership Council – which was staffed by Metro but developed its plans independent of the regional government – was warned off of education early on.
"The education question can be answered," she said, "I just disagree that this is the group that needs to answer it."
That being said, the infrastructure element of education, Collette said, is something that could be addressed at a regional scale.
Leadership Council members were quick to emphasize that focus on infrastructure – buildings, classroom equipment, stuff that can be bought. They talked about looking at ways to use education resources across school district boundaries.
Rodriguez, a former superintendent of the Hillsboro School District, laid out a statistic to emphasize the scope of the initiative's look at education.
"There are 5,400 acres of K-12 land in the region, and about 1,000 of those acres are undeveloped," Rodriguez said. "What's going to happen in the future? What's the plan to go forward, build new schools and renovate the current schools?"
In a sense, the discussion underscores one of the key aspects of the investment initiative – despite it being its own entity that could go its own direction on policy pursuits, it's tied close enough to Metro that councilors are urging it to stay within the regional government's comfort zone.
As for the rest of the Leadership Council's endeavors, Metro councilors said they were impressed.
"I love what you were coming to do today, because I do think you've managed to look very broadly," Collette said. "I think it's a terrific assessment of what the needs are."