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Corbett residents fractured by bond

• Gresham-Barlow goes after $210 million bond, the first since 2000 • Corbett goes after $15 million


Corbett residents are sharply divided on a school bond measure, with tensions mounting at recent school board meetings and vitriol spewing on both sides.

The residents of Corbett, like their neighbors in the Gresham-Barlow School District, are being asked to approve funding measures at the same time that property tax bills are rising by an average of 9.2 percent countywide.

The Corbett School district is asking for $15 million, while the Gresham-Barlow School District is asking for $210 million. Votes will decide on the funding during the Tuesday, Nov. 5, special election. Ballots were sent out in the mail on Friday, Oct. 18.

Corbett School District

The district reports it would use the funding to improve safety, make renovations to meet seismic and ADA codes and make operations more efficient throughout the district.

In 1994, voters passed a $6.5 million bond to construct a new elementary school. Besides the elementary school, district buildings are between 35 and 90 years old.

Two school board members and members of the group Save Our School (SOS) oppose the bond, saying it overreaches the needs of school district, that the plan lacks details, that the district will grow too much with the bond and that they feel a lack of trust in school administration.

Parties opposing the bond also question how nonresidents whose children attend the Corbett charter schools would contribute.

Opponents such as school board member Annette Calcagno say they would prefer to see more research conducted for a bond measure in spring 2014 or later of $8 million to $10 million with a more developed plan.

Gary Purvine, a director for SOS, sees the proposed bond as a “manufactured crisis.”

“It’s too much too soon,” Purvine said. “We need to do more research and work before we decide on a proposed bond.”

Added Lynette Kerslake, another SOS director, “It’s overly excessive. It’s obvious they plan to expand the district further and it’s already too huge as it is.”

But Corbett School Board Chairman Charlie O’Neil said the time is ripe with low interest rates.

“We feel that $8 million to $10 million won’t cover all our needs,” O’Neil said. “We have an opportunity to keep our tax rates with only an additional $18-$30 per year. Why go out to save just a little bit of money when we could look further out than 10-15 years?”

Controversy has sparked over the years among residents about the district’s emphasis on charter schools and Advanced Placement classes, which have drawn students from neighboring districts. Many residents are fearful the proposed bond would make the district grow too large.

O’Neil denies that the district is trying to grow exponentially. He envisions the Corbett schools boasting the optimal number of students now and said that the district has enough students to offer programs while keeping the schools small.

“We want the building to remain under Corbett control,” O’Neil said. “The kids coming in from neighboring districts are addressing our budgetary needs for operating. We’re able to offer many programs we wouldn’t otherwise have.”

He noted that families from other districts often are paying bonds and levies already and that sometimes Corbett students attend their neighboring schools.

The bond is supported by Corbett Community Advocates, which directs the PAC Citizens for Corbett Schools. It also has received arguments in favor by Tom Layton, Gary Law, Michelle Smith and Vance Rogers.

Pat Lucas, a longtime community member and mother of the late Jeff Lucas — for whom the Corbett athletics stadium honors — is vehemently opposed to the bond.

“There are a lot of problems right now that need to be taken care of in the district,” Lucas said. “Respect, ethics and the responsibility of staff and administration to maintain integrity.”

Kathryn Green, a parent, supports taking care of the district’s building needs, but likened the district’s bond proposal to a little kid who hadn’t taken care of her shoes. “Well, sweetie,” she said. “I’m not buying you new ones. You have to show me you know how to take care of things first.”

Community members such as Michelle Smith, however, see things differently. She is not affiliated with either group, but is supporting the bond because she thinks it will make a stronger community.

“We have such a strong sense of community, but because we’re so diverse, we become divided,” Scott said. “It grieves me to see the best people with the best intentions finding themselves on opposite sides of the fence.

“Now is our time to take a risk and step out and build this future for our kids or grandkids. United we stand, divided we fall,” Smith added.

The district has raised particular concern about the middle school, constructed in 1923, which doesn’t meet safety and seismic building codes.

If the bond passes, the district expects to renovate buildings to reduce maintenance costs; replace old plumbing, electrical and heating/ventilation systems; meet building codes for seismic, fire and life safety; improve campus safety and traffic flows; and comply with federal ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and educational equity laws.

Specifically, the district would replace its 90-year-old middle school that is classified as dangerous, by constructing a new building that would serve as the high school. Middle school students would be moved to the current high school, which would be renovated.

The bond also would renovate the 1970 gym, add classrooms and labs and a second multipurpose facility, construct a new bus barn and add parking spaces to potentially ease highway traffic.

A $15 million bond would cost an estimated $2.29 per $1,000 of assessed value, which if approved, would increase the property tax rate for Corbett School District residents by 9 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The bond would mature over a period not to exceed 26 years.

Gresham-Barlow

The 25-year bond measure proposed by Gresham-Barlow School District would fund improvements to 18 of the district’s 19 schools, with the exception of Damascus Middle School. The middle school would close and merge with Deep Creek Elementary School to become a K-8 school.

Nearly half the bond would pay to rebuild, repurpose or remodel three schools — Gresham High School, West Gresham Elementary School and Deep Creek Elementary School. In addition, the bond would fund removal of 38 portable classrooms and expand building to accommodate full-day kindergarten, which is coming in two years.

The bond also includes technology upgrades, better gyms, play fields, performing arts space, new roofs, siding and electrical and plumbing systems. Seismic upgrades and security improvements are also included.

Estimates of what its would cost taxpayers to fund the $210 million bond increased in August, largely due to rising interest. The owner of a home with an assessed value of $167,350 was forecast to pay $22 a month if voters approve, which equals $1.56 per $1,000 of assess property value.

School buildings in the district average 40 years in age, with some close to 100. Gresham-Barlow voters have not approved capital bond funds to upgrade facilities since 2000.



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