SALEM""The state Senate is poised to vote on a bill that would allow the Ashland School District to seek a local option tax in the May 2008 election.




Rep. Peter Buckley, an Ashland Democrat and chairman of the House Education Committee, introduced the legislation at the request of local school officials, who are battling declining enrollment at the district's six campuses.




"With a hundred fewer students each year, it's becoming more and more difficult for the school district," Buckley said. "This will allow them to maintain a quality level of service to the students."




The levy would replace the district's voter-approved Youth Activities Levy, which generated $2.2 million last fiscal year, and is set to expire in 2008 after first being approved in 1994 and renewed three times thereafter.




Unlike the Youth Activities Levy, receipts from the local option can be used for classroom programs in addition to bankrolling such things as music programs, after school sports and student clubs.




House Bill 2641, already approved by the House, would allow the Ashland School District to ask voters to approve a local options levy up to 20 percent of its operating budget, up from the 15 percent currently allowed by law.




The bill would allow the district a three-percent levy increase annually until the property tax limitation imposed in 1990 by Measure 5 is met. Measure 5 says cities must limit school taxes to $5 per $1,000 assessed value.




Proponents say allowing the school activities levy to expire could avert a protracted legal battle that a similar youth activities levy in Eugene faced.




In that case, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled ultimately last year that the levy was unconstitutional as it put the district over the amount it could levy property owners under Measure 5.




Ashland School Board Member Mat Marr said the district is "not even close" to that cap, adding in the wake of declining enrollments this is a critically important bill.




"This would be a way to give a relatively inexpensive shot in the arm to our wonderful school district," Marr said.




Unlike the youth activities levy, collected from city property owners, the local option tax would be levied against property owners within the district's boundaries, which stretch outside of the Ashland city limits.




Buckley said that means more property owners will be contributing to local schools, reducing the tax burden on city residents who currently pay $1.38 per $1,000 assessed value.




covers the state Legislature for The Daily Tidings. Reach him at csrizo@hotmail.com.