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School groups make election day push

Portland voters: Today is election day, meaning you have to turn in your ballots by 8 p.m. If you don't turn them in, expect someone with a Portlanders for Schools sign to politely remind you with a phone call or a knock on your door.

Portland Public Schools has two big-stakes money measures on the ballot: renewal of a five-year local option levy that will protect about 200 teachers' jobs, and a $548 million school construction bond that will begin a six-year program to upgrade and renovate schools.

The Portlanders for Schools campaign, which has raised $1.2 million, is pushing people to get out the vote until the last minute.

'Over the past 5 months, we've knocked on 60,000 thousand doors and made 35,000 phone calls,' wrote campaign Director Ben Unger in an e-mail to volunteers. 'But there's still work to do. With many more last-minute voters to catch and remind, we have a challenge for you ... find 5 people that have not turned their ballot in and get those ballots to a drop box. Ask your family, ask your friends, ask your neighbors while walking your dog, ask your coworkers and ask your barista. 5 YES ballots, we need every vote and we need your help in finding our last supporters. And our schools need your help!'

The campaign will gather at the Left Bank Annex, 101 N. Weidler, at 7 p.m. to watch election-night returns.

At the same time Tuesday evening, critics of the bond with the group 'Learn Now, Build Later' will gather in Northeast Portland to discuss 'next steps' for improving Portland's schools.

'Whether or not voters pass the upcoming bond, Portland needs to immediately move forward immediately toward protecting and educating our students,' says Eric Fruits, the parent leader of the group, which is the only organized opposition to the bond measure. 'We need to make smart decisions about how many schools we can afford to operate, so that we can offer rigorous academic curriculum and improve educational outcomes for all students.'

The Learn Now, Build Later campaign is supporting the renewal of the local-option levy, saying it's critical to the health of the schools.

They argue that the construction bond, however, is too large, expensive, and ill timed. To be part of the solution moving forward, Fruits says, they're looking to build a 'turnaround team' of parents and community leaders to brainstorm ways to use their resources better and resolve the big issues.

'Our kids deserve better,' he says. 'Our 53 percent graduation rate, enormous class sizes and lack of educational programs are unacceptable. We need to restore three weeks of high school instruction time that PPS just cut, the textbooks and science and language curriculum they failed to fund and provide rigorous academic offerings that prepare students for college and the work force. There is important work to be done moving forward for the future of our kids, and the livability and economic health of our city.'

For information, see www.portlandersforschools.org or www.learnnowbuildlater.org .