Running out of Room
- Kelly Moyer-Wade
- Gresham Outlook - News
While some Reynolds elementary students enjoy brand new, state-of-the-art buildings, others spend their days in trailers and eating in basements. Equity is just one of the issues educators say makes passing Measure 26-88 critical
From the sky, Wilkes Elementary School probably resembles a patchwork quilt. The original 1918 school is still there, but added onto it are the marks of a growing district - an addition here, a portable building there, a little remodeling everywhere.
'We've done our best to instill a little pride in this building,' says Wilkes Principal John Pestillo. 'We keep trying to do small improvements, to make it glow for the kids … but a new facility would give us so much more.'
A new school might even make Pestillo, a 37-year veteran in the education game, stick around a little longer.
'I think I'd stay around for awhile if we built this,' Pestillo says, looking over preliminary drawings of a new Wilkes Elementary. 'It would be so exciting to have something of this quality.'
Like other principals in the Reynolds district, Pestillo wants the absolute best for his students and teachers. But he is also a property owner and a taxpayer. He says he knows voters are overwhelmed with choices this election season, but he hopes that, if they value a well-educated society, they vote yes on ballot Measure 26-88.
'I know where the voters are coming from,' Pestillo says. 'But I work at this school. I see the need here. And I've got half my students attending classes in portables. They walk through the rain and the wind to get to the main building … we're crowded and it's getting worse. I know we need to do something.'
If Measure 26-88 passes, Wilkes will be torn down. A new school - where children won't have to eat lunch in the basement or run through the rain to get from their portable classroom to the main school building - will go up in its place.
A building like this, Pestillo says, would tell his students, 75 percent of whom are already living in poverty, that their community believes that their education is important.
'If you tell kids that it's important to go to school - show them that you mean it,' Pestillo urges voters in the Reynolds district. 'If you value education - prove it.'
At $115 million, Measure 26-88 may look a bit overwhelming, but Reynolds officials say the bond would cost the average homeowner less than $1 a day.
The tax rate is expected to be $1.73 per $1,000 of assessed value, or $346 a year for a house valued at $200,000.
The bond's impact would spread across the Reynolds district and alleviate crowding at all levels.
Included in the list of what this bond would buy are new classrooms, a media center and a computer lab at the high school; an entirely new elementary school to alleviate crowding at other Reynolds grade schools; new rooms for all-day kindergarten programs at all of the elementary schools; and improvements the district's three oldest elementary schools (Wilkes, Troutdale and Fairview).
District wants to make
Across the district from Pestillo's school, Troutdale Elementary Principal Anne Chudek says she appreciates her school's history, but admits that improvements are needed.
'We like our unique building, but I would love to see some things get updated and upgraded,' Chudek says.
Like children at Reynolds' other two oldest grade schools, Wilkes and Fairview, the students at Troutdale Elementary eat breakfast and lunch in the basement. The space can only handle one grade level at a time, which means lunch starts before 11 a.m. and goes on until nearly 1 p.m.
There are four portable classrooms, two of which don't have running water, which means students run through the bad weather to go to the bathroom or wash their hands.
Both Troutdale and Fairview would get massive remodels if the Reynolds' bond passes. District officials say remodels are needed to bring the older buildings up to par with Reynolds' other grade schools.
Donna Edgley, a Reynolds school board member, has said the bond would bring equity to Reynolds' schools.
'It is very important that every child in the Reynolds district has a comparable learning environment,' Edgley told The Outlook this summer, after the board approved going out for the $115 million bond.
It isn't fair that some children in the district attend elementary schools with new cafeterias and modern computer rooms, while others make do with dilapidated equipment and cafeterias tucked into basements, Edgley said.
At Fairview, Principal Paz Ramos nods his head when the subject of equity is brought up.
'My hope is that voters remember that this is for the whole district, that this affects kids in every building,' Ramos says.
The Fairview principal is dealing with some very basic needs for his students.
'We need more classrooms,' Ramos says. 'We have four portables right now and none of them have running water. They are all very old.'
No running water in the portables means teachers are hard-pressed when it comes to teaching subjects like science or doing messy crafts, and that the children are running through the rain and wind to the main school building.
Like the other schools mentioned already, Fairview has a basement cafeteria and basement-level kindergarten classes. There is no covered play area at Fairview, Troutdale or Wilkes and the bond would provide some covered outdoor space for recess.
'The kids need to get fresh air,' Ramos says. 'Right now they have to stay inside for recess when the weather's bad.'
The bond would get rid of Fairview's portables and build a new wing on the west side, adding between four and six new classrooms and preserving the brick face of the historic building.