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SWNI hosts community-led forum on school bond, levy measures

Attendees will have chance to ask questions, share own opinions
by: Claire Oliver Southwest Portland’s Markham Elementary is one of nine schools up for complete rebuilds in the May 17 school modernization bond measure.

SOUTHWEST - On April 15, Southwest Neighborhoods Inc. will host a forum to detail the bond and levy measures up for approval on the May 17 election ballot.

The event, to be hosted from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Multnomah Arts Center, will give voters a chance not only to hear from those for and against the measures but to voice their opinions as well.

A chance to be heard

As SWNI itself is a neutral party, information about, for and against the school modernization bond measure and the local option levy measure will be presented by a variety of organizations.

A representative from the Portlanders for Schools campaign will speak in support of the measures, and although there is no opposition organized officially against them, Lindsay Berschauer - a former research associate on the issue of the school bonds measure for the Cascade Policy Institute - will present arguments for a 'no' vote.

Representatives from Portland Public Schools will be on hand to answer technical questions about the measures, and the League of Women Voters will also make a neutral presentation as well.

And, before and after the formal program, the speakers and other local groups will man display tables to answer questions and hand out background materials.

'It's a real chance for people to get solid information about these measures,' SWNI Schools Committee Chairman Will Fuller said.

'As far as I know, it's the only (community-led) forum on measures in the city that I've heard about.'

After all sides have made presentations, audience members will have the opportunity to not only ask questions but make comments of their own.

'They'll have three minutes to say whatever they want to say,' Fuller said.

The forum will address the measures' impact on the city of Portland as a whole and may address Southwest Portland specifically as well.

'What's interesting in Southwest, and one reason I'd thought we'd do a good job, is that we're relatively less impacted than the rest of the city, Fuller said.

'We're trying to give a broad overview with good information on measures (that) people really need to hear about,' he said. 'There's a lot of confusion and concern about why we'd pony up so much money for buildings in a time of recession.'

District-wide facelift

With Measure 26-121, voters will decide whether to approve a $548 million bond measure that would implement a plan to increase safety and update school buildings throughout the district over a six-year period.

Improvements would include classroom updates at city high schools to remodel and provide media and technology labs, science labs and equipment and music and art rooms. The measure would update science labs at the middle-school level and update play apparatus and covered play areas for K-5 students.

At all levels, the bond measure would equip classrooms with teaching technology such as mobile interactive audio-visual presentation systems; increase accessibility at schools for people with disabilities; enhance school safety and security systems; fund repairs for stages and curtain systems; and create a master plan for each of the nine high schools, coordinating with communities to prioritize the improvements made at each location. At Wilson High School, funds would be allocated to improve its grounds and athletic fields and repair its roofing. Ainsworth School and Hayhurst and Maplewood elementaries would also receive improvements to their heating systems.

Markham Elementary, originally constructed in 1950, would be the only Southwest school completely rebuilt.

If approved, the bond measure would increase property taxes by $2 per $1,000 of taxable assessed value.

According to PPS, the measure would also help stimulate the city's overall economy by adding back $222 million and 2,594 jobs over its six-year period.

Damage control

As the school modernization bond measure cannot be used to pay for teaching positions, voters will also decide on Measure 26-122, which would approve a five-year local option levy to replace the one approved in 2006 and assist in funding the district's staff and day-to-day operations.

The state has forecasted a budget shortfall of more than $100 million with another forecast due this month, and legislative fiscal analysis has said it would take $6.6 billion from statewide for schools to avoid service cuts.

Gov. John Kitzhaber's proposed $5.56 billion budget for schools for the 2011-2013 biennium, however, is down $5.76 million from the previous biennium, and for PPS - which receives more than three quarters of its General Fund from the state - this would mean a $80 to $90 million shortfall over the next two years.

The district's General Fund pays for all its teaching staff and most of its school and district operations, and the result would be a cut of more than 400 teaching positions district-wide or more than six weeks of school.

Although some cuts are inevitable, in order to help preserve its staff and services, the district has proposed the new, larger local option levy that would raise an estimated $57 million a year, increased levy funds by $19 million annually.

The levy would charge property owners $1.99 per $1,000 of taxable assessed value, a 7-cent increase on the 2006 levy.

PPS Superintendent Carole Smith is now working to propose a 2011-2012 budget with two staffing levels - one for if the passage of the levy increase and one for if it fails.

If the measure does not pass, 1.5 to 2.5 teaching positions would be cut at most elementary schools; two to three positions would be cut at the district's middle schools; and five to seven positions would be cut at its high schools.

'A general issue'

Together, the measures represent a possible increase of $2.74 per $1,000 taxable assessed value from what taxpayers currently pay. The median Portland homeowner would pay an additional $404 per year, roughly $33.67 a month.

And, as 80 percent of voters in the May 17 election do not have children in Portland's schools, Fuller said the forum's organizers are concentrating on getting information to these voters who do not have direct ties.

'The main concern is people are asked to pay a lot of tax money, and if they don't have kids in schools, what's it to them?' he said. 'It's a general issue, but it's important because it's such an expense.'

Fuller said the measures could also affect the state of the city of Portland as whole.

'It's obvious that Portland, and maybe Oregon in general, are suffering from a lack of highly educated, qualified people to attract businesses and industry to the state, he said.

'It's important that, when people do vote, they vote on an informed basis.

'This forum is a place to get some information.'

The SWNI School Bond and Levy Measure Forum will be held Friday, April 15 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Multnomah Arts Center, 7688 S.W. Capitol Hwy. The event is free and open to the public.

For more information, contact Fuller at 503-246-2328 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .