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Schools speed up timeline on 2008 tax levy

strategy -- Board plans for next year's election by pushing public relations efforts into high gear

The Forest Grove School Board won't wait for election season to heat up before going on the stump for money.

Board members on Monday night talked about taking a proactive approach to avenge last November's bond levy loss at the polls.

They hope to reverse their fortune in November 2008 by beginning to sell the measure now.

A $49.8 million levy for school construction and remodeling failed by 668 votes - 54 percent to 46 percent - last Nov. 7. The money would have replaced Joseph Gale Elementary School, added classroom and gym space to Forest Grove High School and covered a long list of other capital construction and maintenance projects.

The timeline for a new bond proposal will start in April with a comprehensive review of demographic data to see who voted for and against last fall's levy - and why.

By October, the district plans to begin hosting focus group meetings with parents and community members at each local school to find out what they would support, according to Connie Potter, public information coordinator.

Telephone surveys early next year, followed by board approval of a new bond proposal and a public information campaign kick-off in March 2008 could pave the way for success at the polls, the board agreed.

'A great deal of the problem with the last election was the very, very short fuse on the time we had to interact with the community,' said the board's Fred Marble.

Still, any public relations strategy likely will only be as good as the economic climate that exists when voters mail in their general election ballots 20 months from now.

Had the last bond passed, it would have saddled district homeowners with one of the highest tax rates in the state at $5.25 per $1,000 of property value.

'The No. 1 issue with that bond was the money,' said Mike Schofield, the district's business manager. 'We would've had the highest tax rate around, by far.'

Meanwhile, Schofield said, his office is taking a hard look at projects that won't wait for levy funds to roll in, including several school roofing projects.

Board Chairwoman Susan Winterbourne said that when it comes to classroom space and repairing aging buildings, the district's facilities and budget committees ought to look ahead.

'We need to look at the projects that are two, three or more years out, and plan for those,' she said.