Gladstone schools look to voters for construction funds

by: ellen spitaleri, Right, a crowd of hungry Gladstone High School students quickly fills up the Cafeteria at lunch.

The primary issue in the Gladstone School District is the age of the buildings, noted Bob Stewart, superintendent. He added that most of the buildings in the district were built between 1958 and 1975.

'We first addressed facility concerns in 2002,' he said, adding that at that time a committee was formed to discuss the issues.

'The committee reported that we needed to look at a future date for a bond measure, as the issues were too great' for a simple budget procedure, Stewart said.

In Oct. of 2004, a committee of community members developed a proposal, which was passed by 61 percent of the voters in May of 2005. But the bond measure ultimately failed, because fewer than 50 percent of the district's registered voters cast ballots.

There is no turnout requirement for the Nov. 7 election.

A previous bond levy was passed in 1994, but the money from that bond was spent primarily on improvements to the elementary school and the middle school, Stewart noted. Nearly two-thirds of this proposed bond would be spent at Gladstone High School.

Stewart noted that the current bond, Measure 3-255, is essentially the same one that voters approved last time.

If this bond measure fails, Stewart said, 'We will have to find other ways to resolve the issues of roofs, heating and ventilation and security. Those things will have to be addressed.'

Libby Spencer, the chairman of the school board, put it this way: 'We are past the point of band-aiding.'

She added, 'State school funding [is inadequate] for classroom needs. We do our best to keep buildings intact, but the general budget does not take care of major things.

'Our buildings are 30-plus years old, and the roofs are failing. One of our major needs is to update the facilities for science and technology curriculum at the high school, so we can support the educational needs of our kids. We need to better prepare them for the world of work or higher education.'

Spencer noted that at the elementary level there are not enough classrooms for students, and some children are meeting in storage rooms or rooms that were not meant to be classrooms.

When the bond measure did not pass in 2005, Spencer said the district 'band-aided for a little bit longer.'

She described a situation where so much water accumulated on a flat roof that the district had to run a pipe down through a classroom - a noisy solution for students in that room.

'It was not a choice, we had to hold it together for a bit longer,' she added.

Leslie Everson, district school board co-chair, is looking at the bond measure as more than just a way to replace buildings; she sees it as a positive step for both the school district and the community.

'I'm the parent of a high-schooler and I'll have one next year, so I'm excited about the renovation of the Fine Arts Center. It will be a community asset,' she said.

She noted that the Applied Technology and Vocational Center will 'give more hands-on experience with the current technology, to prepare students for the college and work environment. It will also allow for more integrated curriculum in science and technology. [It will also allow us to] further our partnership with Clackamas Community College, which already offers classes on site.'

Everson sees the 2005 acquisition of the Danielson's grocery store property as a positive, and hopes that the district will eventually be able to offer a full day of kindergarten to students in that facility.

Everson said that people should vote for the bond measure, because 'it will be good for our property values. Also, people have a choice where to buy houses, and it concerns me that we are competing with the North Clackamas School District and Oregon City School District, and both of those districts have very new high schools.

'If [potential homeowners] see that we're doing these renovations, they'll see that Gladstone is a great place to live.'

Spencer said she is afraid that there is a lot of confusion among people, that 'keeps people from accurately estimating the cost' of the bond measure.

A person might live in a home that could sell for $220,000, but that home might only be assessed at $160,000 or $170,000, Spencer pointed out.

People need to realize that the tax burden would be $2.48 per $1,000 on the 'assessed value' of the house, she explained.

If the bond measure should fail, Spencer said, 'We'd have to go back to the drawing board and ask ourselves, 'What are we going to do?' If we don't do it now, we might as well tell our kids we don't care about them.'