UPDATE • Paid workers will 'help out' parents and volunteers

The $548 million construction bond campaign for Portland Public Schools is looking beyond its army of grassroots volunteers in its final days before the May 17 election: it is paying canvassers.

According to a May 6 ad posted on Portland's Craigslist page: 'Earn $500 and Save our Schools. Canvassers Needed! Work to help Turnout Voters. Be a part of a grassroots movement, you can make the difference! Support our public education by working to protect teacher jobs, build safe schools and keep class sizes low!'

Portlanders for Schools has collected about $1.1 million in contributions, which the campaign is spending on TV commercials, mailers and now apparently hiring canvassers. The ad promises $500 for five days' work, 10 hours a day. No fundraising is involved.

Paying citizens to get the vote out might make sense to ensure accountability. But it's the same move that caused a stir when publicly financed City Council candidate Jesse Cornett took that strategy last May. Cornett spent $56,322 on a contract with Portland canvassing firm Northwest Democracy Resources. It was a perfectly legal move, but one that called into question his popularity and support among voters.

Campaign manager Ben Unger says drawing a comparison to Cornett's campaign is unfair. 'I believe the criticism was about money spent because of the public funding,' he says.

Unger says the paid canvassers are supplementing work of the campaign's 2,000-plus volunteers, who have worked tirelessly for several months straight.

'Now with only eight days left, we're hiring a couple people to help us out,' Unger says. 'Parents have really stretched themselves thin. It's a tough time of year for everyone.'

Volunteers have done 95 percent of the work, he says, but 'every vote always counts; we're doing everything we can.'

Wednesday morning, which is a late start day for PPS students, many of those volunteers will be holding what Unger calls a 'visibility extravaganza,' waving signs to passerby at bridges and 30 busy street corners around the city.

Volunteers will also have a 'couple of fun surprises in store,' he promises.

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