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Gresham-Barlow: Volunteers in final push to pass bond

Every school in district would get upgrades -

OUTLOOK PHOTO - East Gresham Elementary School is one of two grade schools that would be replaced if the $291.2 million Gresham-Barlow School District bond passes. Volunteers for the Gresham-Barlow School District are planning their final push to convince voters to approve a $291.2 million bond in the upcoming November election.

“I feel very good” about the chances of the bond passing, said Jason Dugan a parent who is also the co-chair for the bond campaign, which is called “YES for Student Success.”

With less than a month to go before the Nov. 8 election, the volunteer group is gearing up. They hope to make at least five contacts with each eligible voter in the Gresham-Barlow district before the election.

If passed by the district’s 41,000 voters, the bond will pay for major overhauls of Gresham and Barlow high schools, which would total about half of the bond. East and North Gresham elementary schools would be replaced at a cost of about $29 million each.

Hall and Hollydale Elementary schools would get additional classrooms. The rest of the funds will be used for varied projects in every school in the district including safety, security and technology upgrades. Alterations will be made to limit entry points at each school, add current emergency communications equipment and locks on classroom doors to make every school safer.

The bond is estimated to cost property owners about $1.89 per $1,000 of assessed property value or $378 per year on a house assessed at $200,000. That works out to about $31.50 per month. At $291.2 million, it is the largest school facilities bond ever proposed by any district in East Multnomah County.

Facilities bonds such as this one cannot be used to pay salaries for teachers or any other staff. Bond funds cannot be used for books or art supplies or other classroom tools. The money can only be used for upgrades, construction and remodel of buildings and for things such as roofs or heating equipment.

So, “YES for Student Success” has 10,000 post cards with a blank spot for volunteers to write a message and address the cards to voters. Volunteers are hard at work filling out the cards and the mailing is scheduled to go out around Wednesday, Oct. 19, coordinated to hit mailboxes the same time as ballots.

OUTLOOK PHOTO - Jason Dugan, co-chair of YES for Student Success and Stefanie Craft, YES campaign manager, pause for a moment in the campaign headquarters of the school bond campaign. The last two weeks before the election, volunteers will make hundreds of phone calls. “They will be very targeted phone calls to people who have not yet voted,” Dugan said.

Volunteers began going door-to-door on Saturday, Oct. 1, and will continue canvassing up to the election. The group has 750 yard signs that will be planted around the district in the next few days. Businesses are getting special signs to post indicating their support of the bond.

Volunteers have manned tables at football games and community events. The campaign also has a web page and a Facebook page.

The school district is spending $193,000 to inform voters about the bond. This money comes from construction excise tax dollars the district can assess, and cannot be used in the district’s general fund operating budget. The funds cannot and have not been used for endorsing the bond, but just for education, district officials emphasized.

The YES campaign itself hopes to raise $150,000 to pay for the various campaign expenses. “We have to have post cards and signs, but the way we’re going to get this bond passed is through the (personal) outreach to the community,” Dugan said.

School bonds have not fared well recently in East Multnomah County. In the May 17, 2016 election voters said no to three local school bonds. They voted down a $125 million bond for Mt. Hood Community College, and an $85 million bond for Centennial School District and a $11.9 million bond for Corbett School District. Reynolds School District was able to pass a $125 million bond in May 2015 and has started construction on some of the bond-funded projects.

In addition, the Gresham-Barlow bond is competing with two other money measures on the ballot. The city of Gresham is asking the community to tax itself for $48 million, which would build a community center. Also, Measure 97, which would tax companies with more than $25 million in Oregon sales, is being slammed by some as an expensive tax for the consumer.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - The Gresham-Barlow School District has planted informational signs around the district so voters know what the $291.2 million will buy. Every school will get security upgrades to keep students safe. Will voters feel like too many entities are asking for money and vote against all the money measures? “There is that possibility,” said Dugan. But, he added, “we are the positive alternative in this sometimes negative political environment.”

Concluded Dugan, “We can’t let the school buildings fall down around us. There’s got to be a reason to move here. We want Gresham to continue to be a great place” to live and work.