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Bond proposal heads to Gresham-Barlow board

Members of the Gresham-Barlow Bond Measure Planning Committee will recommend to the school board a $210 million bond be put forth to voters in May.

After meeting since late December 2012 and reviewing polling and forum data, the committee reached a consensus Tuesday, Feb. 19. Committee members are expected to make their recommendation at the Thursday, March 7, school board meeting.

SUPERINTENDENT JIM SCHLACHTER

While committee work groups agreed on the price and date of the potential bond, they expressed concerns about certain bond specifics that have been reflected in community polling and forums.

Namely, concerns include Gresham High School receiving significantly more money than Sam Barlow High School at $82 million, or close to half of the bond; how West Gresham Elementary would be repurposed; and the bond being presented at a time when a weak economy is struggling to rebound.

Another concern committee members expressed revolved around the athletic fields the public frequently uses at Damascus Middle School. The bond includes a plan to combine Deep Creek Elementary and Damascus Middle in a kindergarten through 12th model at the elementary school. There is concern that closure of the middle school will also mean the community loses access to those fields.

Community reaction

Between late January and mid-February, 200 people — 135 community members, 81 staff members and 15 students — attended forums about the bond.

Of the groups of residents in the forums, 68 agreed with the idea of a bond and nine disagreed. Forty-five groups agreed with the bond amount, 14 disagreed (four thought the amount was too low), three said they needed more information and one was undecided.

Because some groups didn’t say a straightforward yes or no, agreeing with certain parts of the bond and not others, there is a discrepancy between the total number of groups.

Athena Vadnais, Gresham-Barlow Community Relations Director, said the forum information was intended as more general, qualitative feedback.

Those who attended the forums said the things they liked best about the bond were its focus on security and safety, technology, emphasis on Gresham High School and the fact that every school would benefit.

A January survey, funded by Citizens for School, polled 400 residents in the district from Multnomah and Clackamas counties with an estimated 5 percent margin of error.

Of the respondents, 45 percent gave the district an A or B grade for performance, with 78 percent of respondents giving it a passing grade, or most of them giving it a B or C.

Half of respondents said the district did a good or very good job of spending money, with 20 percent of respondents giving a negative response and 25 percent saying they were unsure.

“One issue from the campaign perspective that’s concerning is the number of ‘don’t knows,’ ” said Bob Lawrence, an independent campaign consultant working for Citizens for Schools. “You have a number of residents who are aging and getting away from the schools.”

According to the survey, 73 percent of respondents favored renovations of the 98-year-old Gresham High School. Because of its additions over the years, though, some residents were confused about the school’s actual age. Some were under the impression it was built in 1928, others thought it was 1940.

The most significant reason 181 respondents gave for supporting a bond was its ability to improve education, but members of the public also expressed reservations.

“We need to acknowledge people’s concerns about the poor economy,” Lawrence said. “There is more of a conversation that has to happen with voters.”

It’s clear from polling and forums that the district’s patrons want to see the West Gresham Elementary building preserved for some use; but they generally reacted positively to phasing students out of the building and into different schools.

Still, many questions linger about how the school would be repurposed, questions Superintendent Jim Schlachter said can’t be answered without a significant amount of money invested into research.

Also, the timeline of bond projects could stretch into the 2020-21 school year.

“There’s perception that once you have the bond, the work is done in 12 months,” Schlachter said. “For the high school, it would take 18-20 months just to plan and another two years to build it.”

Were a bond to pass, that would mean Gresham High School’s renovation would be completed in the 2017-18 school year.

The 38-member advisory committee will draft a recommendation in the coming weeks to present to the school board. From the recommendation, the school board will vote on its next step.

If the school board were to favor a bond proposal, a campaign would begin for the May 2013 election.




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