Gresham-Barlow considers $210 million school bond
After a series of community forums, the school board will vote in March whether to go after a bond in 2013
Students overflow into the cafeteria during assemblies because theres not enough room in the gym to fit them. They cram into small classrooms and bundle up during winter because the heat sometimes feels inadequate in the 98-year-old Gresham High School.
With declining enrollment, Deep Creek Elementary and Damascus Middle School are operating at 50 percent capacity.
West Gresham Elementary is a community landmark at 91, but to be viable for future generations, it requires significant remodeling.
With many of its 19 schools at least 40 years old and in need of some tender loving care, the Gresham-Barlow School Board is weighing whether to pose a $210 million school bond to voters in May or November.
Buildings are beat up, run down and woefully inadequate in some of the older schools, said Scott Hansen, a business representative on the Bond Measure Planning Committee and a parent who raised nine children in the district. Its tough to ask your neighbors to raise their taxes, but we need to do something, and this is the time and place.
During the course of eight community forums that began Jan. 29 and conclude Feb. 13, district administration and 22 Bond Measure Planning Committee members are asking community members to offer input on the proposed bond.
From the information gathered at these forums, along with research based on building needs, the committee will put forth a recommendation to the school board March 7, potentially suggesting a school bond for later this year.
In 2011, the long-range planning committee for the Gresham-Barlow School District conducted a strategic plan that addressed growth in demographics a projected 13,500 students for the next 10 years and building conditions.
With the lowest property tax rate among the Portland-area school districts and an existing construction bond about to mature, the committee determined it was the right time for the district to consider a bond.
Beginning in late December, the Bond Measure Planning Committee including students, parents, business leaders, teachers, staff members, city representatives, representatives from faith-based organizations and neighborhood association representatives began meeting to determine the size, scope and date of a potential bond.
Our school buildings are our communitys investment, Superintendent Jim Schlachter said. Its important to hear what community members value when it comes to maintaining the communitys assets.
While the proposed bond would reach all 19 schools in the district, it would begin with the three schools needing the most significant changes: Gresham High School, West Gresham Elementary School and Deep Creek Elementary School, for $100.7 million, or 48 percent of the bond.
The bond would begin with rebuilding Gresham High School, which would take two years to design and two years to construct; either upgrading West Gresham Elementary or repurposing it and reassigning students to the other elementary schools; and combining Deep Creek Elementary and Damascus Middle School into a kindergarten through eighth-grade model to combine resources.
We need a better learning system, said Jessica Gonzalez, a 17-year-old senior at Gresham Barlow who has lived in the district since sixth grade and is one of the planning committee members. Im a senior, and Im not going to be here to enjoy it, but I know other students will, and its important to their education.
Along with upgrades on the three buildings needing the most changes, the bond would remove 38 portable classrooms at elementary schools and expand the buildings to accommodate all-day kindergarten, which likely will be implemented in the 2015-16 school year.
It also would allow for technology upgrades for the Career Technical Education Program (CTE) and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) classes; improve gyms, fields and performing arts spaces; replace roofs and siding, electrical and plumbing systems; and upgrade seismic and security infrastructure.
The first community forum Jan. 29, presented by Diane Shiner, a bond measure planning consultant, drew a group of 26 parents, citizens, committee members, and district staff and administration.
It might be an uphill battle, and I can see how some people would balk at the bond, but we really need to do something on a grand scale to correct whats not working instead of doing piecemeal things, said Sheila Spencer, a parent with children in Hollydale Elementary and Clear Creek Middle School.
Its a cliché, but kids are our future. If we dont invest in their education, its going to hurt everybody.
Spencer said the only concern she came away with from the forum was how potentially closing West Gresham Elementary and Damascus Middle School could affect class size.
Corey Sexton, the parent of a Gordon Russell Middle School sixth-grader and a soon-to-be kindergartner, said she felt supportive of the bond but wanted to see continued transparency in the process and open minds among community members.
Sometimes the people who dont know the details are the loudest, Sexton said. There are always people who will be negative, even if they havent delved into what the specifics are. People need to know whats going on, especially the ones in disagreement.
Tom Sherman, Sheila Spencers husband, also underscored the importance of transparency moving forward with the bond.
We all knew the schools were in bad shape and needed a lot of work, Sherman said. I thought the bond was very well researched, well thought out and presented a compelling and complete picture. It is a lot of money, and no one wants to pay more, but the truth is, if were going to invest in anything, its going to have to be our kids.