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Clearing up questions about the bond

The months of September and October are usually very busy for school leaders and staff. Along with the regularly scheduled back-to-school and startup activities, there are a wide variety of community and parent events. This year we have scheduled an inordinate number of informational presentations due largely to the proposed November bond measure. We have enjoyed the opportunity to meet with residents and share objective information about the proposed bond.

As Board Members and I have attended and shared at these events, several questions have surfaced on multiple occasions. We have tracked these frequently asked questions (FAQ's). While many patrons may know the answers to these prompts, my sense is that most readers may be interested in the questions and the information offered in response.

1. Why don't developers pay for new schools? In the many public presentations of the last two months, this is clearly the most frequently asked question associated with the proposed bond. Currently Oregon law does not allow for system development charges to be targeted for school construction. Readers may be interested to know that OSBA, the state association for school boards, has formally adopted a policy to address this in the next state legislative session.

2. Why doesn't the state pay for new schools? The Oregon school funding formula allocates money to school districts on a 'per pupil' basis for operational purposes. This formula does not provide for new capital construction.

3. What options did the Long Range Facilities Planning Committee consider? This large group of community representatives met extensively for several months in the winter and spring of 2005. They studied year-round schools, K-8 models, and several different school configurations, including a new high school. The committee also considered available land, operating and construction costs, growing residential development and Sherwood's enrollment history.

4. Why can't the district have a new high school? The Long Range Facilities Planning Committee examined this option in great depth. Several factors prevent the immediate construction of a new high school. Approximately 45-55 acres of flat, buildable land is needed to site a large, comprehensive high school. This land would need to be available inside or close to the Urban Growth Boundary, the path of buildable land determined by Metro. There is currently no parcel of available land meeting this criteria.

A second consideration is cost. The purchase of a parcel this large would cost $16-20 million and construction of an entirely new facility would average more than $200 per square foot based upon current industry estimates. The total cost of a new comprehensive high school would easily exceed $70 million. This would not address the growth demands at the elementary and middle school levels.

A third factor is time. Even if land were available, with the most optimistic schedule for purchase, the land use planning process, appeals, construction, furnishing and equipping a new high school would require at least 4-5 years. The high school, already over recommended capacity, is gaining more than 100 students each year. The growth demands suggests against a five-year solution.

5. Why doesn't the District or the City stop growth to limit overcrowding? Oregon law does not provide statutory authority for school districts to prevent growth. Several external factors influence residential growth, including market demand, available land, location, and community appeal. Sherwood is located in a direct path of the urban growth corridor, the area where the larger Portland metropolitan area appears to be expanding at a rapid rate. The City of Sherwood features a Planning Commission that meets regularly to review residential construction applications and make recommendations to City Council. While building permits and residential construction may slow considerably, school enrollment can be driven by other factors, such as the local birth rate. It is not unusual for school enrollment to increase at a rate that is greater than residential development.

6. How much debt is the district currently servicing? A 1994 bond is being paid at the rate of $0.9141 per thousand. This bond will retire in the 2011-2012 tax year. A 1999 bond (approved in 1998) is being paid at the rate of $1.2981 per thousand, and will retire in the 2017-2018 tax year. The total current debt service property tax rate is $2.21 per thousand of assessed value.

7. How much would the proposed bond cost? The bond is proposed at $98 million with a tax rate of $1.97 per $1,000 assessed value. The proposal calls for a 25-year life of the bond.

8. What would happen to my property taxes as new homes are built in Sherwood? The amount of combined debt service property tax rate liability to pay off the school bond is reduced as more taxable properties are constructed.

9. When would the proposed new schools be available for students?

The proposed elementary school and middle school will be available by September 2009. The proposed high school expansion will be implemented in phases, and totally completed by September 2009.

10. How can the high school be remodeled while school is in session? Architects, contractors, safety consultants and District leaders would develop a plan to seal off different segments of the school in phases. The project would unfold with close oversight and scrutiny by school leaders with an eye for student and staff safety.

11. What is the projected growth for Sherwood? Sherwood will likely continue its pace of 'unprecedented growth' according to the most recent projection by demographer Dr. Judith Barmack, of PSU. Dr. Barmack projects an increase of 26 percent in the next four to five years. Early indications from enrollment numbers this year reflect a growth rate greater than this prediction.

It is important that citizens are knowledgeable and equipped with accurate information about the proposed November bond measure. Board Members and District staff are available to answer questions and share additional information as requested. We are available at 503-625-8105, or by accessing our web page at www.sherwood.k12.or.us.

Also, as I shared in the September Gazette, community members are encouraged to take a virtual tour of the proposed new schools and expansion by accessing the District web page. For those who are unable to open the web page, we have printed several DVDs, which are available for no cost at all schools and the District Office.