Revenue-Generating State Lands Pay Out Record Dividends For Schools This Year

State lands that are leased and worked to generate revenue for Oregon schools are paying record dividends this year.

The state’s 197 school districts will split more than $74 million from the Common School Fund, with each getting allocations based on enrollment. The average distribution per district this year is more than $375,000, according to the Oregon Department of State Lands, which announced the record funding Wednesday.

The department oversees more than 680,000 acres of state school land across all 36 Oregon counties. Revenue generated from leasing and activities like logging and cattle grazing on those lands is invested by the state Treasurer’s Office, which distributes about 3.5% of earnings to districts each year. The fund is worth more than $2 billion today.

The $74 million being distributed in 2024 is $2 million more than districts got last year and $10 million more than they got in 2022. Districts received their first payments in February and will get their second in July.

The largest distributions will go to the two largest districts in the state. Portland Public Schools will receive more than $6.4 million and the Salem-Keizer Public School District will get more than $5.3 million.

It’s a drop in the bucket for both, district leaders say. Each district is staring down budget shortfalls and staff cuts following insufficient state funding, high inflation and growing student needs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Portland Public Schools needs to cut $30 million from its next budget, and the Salem-Keizer School District is looking to cut $60 million from its next budget.

Salem-Keizer teachers could vote to strike as soon as Friday over inadequate pay and working conditions. Portland Public Schools experienced its first teacher strike in November over class sizes, planning time, wages and a lack of behavioral support staff. The strike lasted three weeks, and to meet demands of its contract with the Portland Teachers Association union, district leadership will need to come up with an additional $175 million during the next three years.

Oregon’s land department is seeking public input on its 10-year plan for managing state lands, and comments can be submitted here until April 3. The plan would increase the development of renewable energy and wildfire resiliency on state school lands and focus on maintaining and improving lands, rather than selling off land providing lower revenues.

The Common School Fund has been around for more than 160 years, when Congress decided to allocate nearly 3.4 million acres of land to the newly established State of Oregon to be used to earn money for schools.

The state sold much of the land and today, just about 20% of the original allotment remains producing revenue for schools.

by Alex Baumhardt, Oregon Capital Chronicle

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