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Lake Oswego School District may shift bond measure to May

School board worries that crowded November ballot and a time crunch could put proposal at risk

REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Lake Oswego School Board member Bob Barman, right, makes a comment during a two-day retreat last week while colleague John Wendland looks on.Faced with a crowded November ballot, the Lake Oswego School Board now appears likely to wait until the May 2017 election before placing a proposed bond measure before voters.

Board members discussed the option during a two-day retreat last week, where no formal decisions were made. But given the number of issues facing voters in November — including presidential and gubernatorial elections, a local mayoral race, three City Council contests and a major corporate tax measure — there was general consensus that delaying the bond makes the most sense.

“Our schools shouldn’t be caught up in the craziness of national elections,” board member Bob Barman told his colleagues, “and I think it would be very difficult to get our message out when we’re lost in all the commercials.”

Board members also raised concerns about whether they would have enough time to make sure the community understands the impact of years of deferred maintenance on the district’s elementary schools and junior highs. A final list of projects is not expected to be chosen until mid-August for a bond that would have appeared before voters on Nov. 8.

HARTMANSchool board member Liz Hartman said it’s possible that local volunteers could raise awareness to some extent before the fall election, but she said she was not sure if a November date provided enough time for an outreach campaign to fully educate the public about the facilities’ poor condition.

Hartman said the chances for success if the bond is presented to voters in November are also lower than in May, according to survey data.

“I think every statistic we’ve looked at and every piece of advice we’ve gotten is, ‘Don’t take that risk,’” she said.

A final decision by the board is expected in August.

REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - During a July 12-13 retreat, the school board discusses what to place on a school bond, and when the bond should go before voters. Along with board members Sarah Howell, Liz Hartman, John Wallin, John Wendland and Bob Barman, those at the table include: Superintendent Heather Beck, Beck's executive assistant Kelli Cranston, Executive Director of Finance Stuart Ketzler and Executive Director of Project Management Randy Miller.

The voters

During the July 12-13 retreat, board members listened to an analysis of voting patterns and the details of a phone survey conducted in March and April that gauged voter tolerance for a bond measure.

Melissa Martin, survey research director for The Nelson Report, said the percentage of school bonds that passed in Oregon from 1997 to 2015 differed greatly not only between November and May, but also between odd and even years.

In all years, an average of 45 percent of bonds were approved by voters in November elections, Martin said. In even years, it was 47 percent; in odd years, it was 38 percent.

For elections held in May, an average of 52 percent of bonds were approved. In even years, it was 46 percent; in odd years — as it will be next spring — the turnout was the highest at 61 percent, Martin said.

SUBMITTED GRAPHIC: MELISSA MARTIN - Melissa Martin, survey research director for The Nelson Report, created a graphic of the passage rates for school bonds in Oregon using bond data that investment bank and asset management firm Piper Jaffray collected from the Oregon School Boards Association website. A presenter from Piper Jaffray has offered some advice to the Lake Oswego School District regarding how much of a bond to go out for.“The data show we have better odds of winning a May election,” board chairwoman Sarah Howell said after hearing those statistics, “and it’s important to set (the bond) up for success.”

Martin said the phone survey, which polled 380 people and had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent, revealed that local voters are mostly older — and that many of them are unaware of the condition of district buildings.

Seventy percent of registered voters in the district are age 45 or older, Martin said. Of those who voted in four elections analyzed by The Nelson Report (May 2012, November 2012, May 2014 and November 2014), 94 percent were 45 or older, and 75 percent of that group was 60 or older.

The survey asked whether respondents would support a $250 million bond measure that would “protect the community’s large investment in school buildings by making repairs and improvements districtwide, such as replacing roofs, flooring, siding and masonry.” Of those who responded to that question, 80 percent said they would support the measure, 17 percent said they would not and 3 percent weren’t sure.

When the district’s pool was added to the list of potential projects, support for a bond measure dropped: 54 percent said they were in favor, 34 percent were opposed and 12 percent weren’t sure. When covered seating and a press box for the Lakeridge High stadium was added, support dropped even further: 29 percent in favor, 61 percent opposed and 10 percent who weren’t sure.

Martin said that’s no surprise, because athletic facilities have a small core group of strong advocates. The quiet majority generally isn’t as supportive, she said.

“They’re not supportive of a stadium for Lakeridge, and the pool is a pretty big wild card right now,” Martin said. “I can’t tell you what to put or not put into your bond, but I will tell you that it’s a calculated risk. If you put the pool in, you may be risking the rest of the project.”

Martin said the survey also revealed that there is a widespread lack of understanding about the condition of the district’s schools. About 50 percent of those surveyed rated the physical condition of the buildings as either “excellent” (12 percent) or “pretty good” (38 percent). That's in stark contrast to a series of studies conducted as part of the bond process.

In a Facilities Condition Assessment prepared for the district in 2015, Lake Oswego High was rated in “good” condition, the best rating possible, and Lakeridge High was ranked as “fair,” the next best rating. (LOHS was rebuilt in 2005 and Lakeridge was fully remodeled in 2004, using funds from an $85 million bond voters approved in November 2000.)REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - 'The list of projects is too large to accomplish in one bond,' board member John Wendland said in a written presentation he prepared for fellow board members. 'The ultimate bond amount still needs to be determined, as well as timing. We cant fix everything all at once, but we can plan for phasing projects over time.'

But the district's five elementary schools were ranked as “poor,” and the sixth is in “critical” condition as a result of design flaws, according to the report. And both junior highs are in “poor” condition but considered close to “critical,” which is the worst possible ranking.

Because there are so many improvements to be made, the board long has discussed proposing an evergreen bond that could be renewed within a few years. Board member John Wendland has also suggested a phased approach, with one set of bond projects done in two parts over an extended period of time.

“The list of projects is too large to accomplish in one bond,” Wendland said in a written presentation he prepared for fellow board members. “The ultimate bond amount still needs to be determined, as well as timing. We can’t fix everything all at once, but we can plan for phasing projects over time.”

The board looked at the impact on voters of three possible timelines, all assuming a $250 million bond package: 20 years at $1.95 per $1,000 of assessed property value, 25 years at $1.50 per $1,000 APV and 30 years at $1.40 per $1,000 APV. (Taxes are levied against assessed value, not the generally 30-percent higher real market value.)

No scenario was selected, but Martin told the board that $1.50 per $1,000 is generally a well-received amount — although Lake Oswego residents may be more willing to support a higher amount than a typical city, Howell said.

REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - 'I'm not as interested in building a new gymnasium as I am in building a new junior high school,' said Sarah Howell, the chairwoman of the Lake Oswego School Board.

The projects

Regardless of the financing timeline or eventual election date, the board still needs to pick the projects it will include in a bond measure. The district’s Bond Development Committee offered two possible plans:

REVIEW PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - The Lake Oswego School Board worked at winnowing down the list of projects for a proposed bond. The board used a hands-on system involving adhering stickers (green for 'support,' yellow for 'caution' and red for 'no') onto pre-made tags, and taping the tags into white butcher sheets with potential projects on them.
• Plan A, which would cost $297 million, would involve projects such as replacing each junior high with a two-story, 150,000-square-foot school with the capacity for 1,100 students.

• Plan B, with a price tag of $245 million, would replace only Lakeridge Junior High and upgrade Lake Oswego Junior High’s gym to make it structurally strong enough to serve as a post-disaster evacuation shelter. Plan B would also include adding maker spaces, which are areas that offer opportunities for creative enterprises, and improving facilities for science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM).

“My hope for this bond is that all of our buildings will be safe, warm and dry, and that we will have two new junior high schools,” Howell said. “I like Plan A, but I think we may be asking too much.”

During a hands-on exercise designed to narrow the list of projects, board members generally agreed that technology, security and safety upgrades were good for the bond. Improving the gym at Lake Oswego Junior High for $3.81 million rather than constructing a replacement school was the least popular idea. An $85.25 million project to rebuild Lakeridge Junior High received more support under Plan A than under Plan B — an indication that the board would prefer to replace both schools if it’s financially possible.

MILLER“I’m not as interested in building a new gymnasium,” Howell said, “as I am in building a new junior high school.”

Barman suggested that creating “cookie cutter” junior highs could reduce costs. But Randy Miller, the district’s executive director of project management, said that idea may not reduce the price as much as one might hope. The two sites differ, he said, and that would affect how each structure is designed.

In any case, Superintendent Heather Beck said, the current cost estimates may be the best anyone will see.

“These numbers are not something that’s going to get less expensive in the future,” she said. “Overall, the bigger buildings do not become less expensive” as time passes.BECK

Safety, security and technology upgrades ($16.18 million all together) were very popular, regardless of whether they were in Plan A or Plan B. Howell said that “it’s important for there to be something for everyone in this bond,” and Miller agreed.

“In terms of ‘something for everyone,’” he said, “I think the one thing we can look at is the tech improvement and the safety and security improvements. We can get on those as soon as the bond is passed.”

STEAM facilities, listed under Plan B at $7 million, were widely embraced by the board, while support was mixed for creative areas or maker spaces. And there was a lot of debate about capital improvement maintenance, which fell under three categories:

• Level 1 ($81.32 million), which includes “critical seismic upgrades,” “emergency notification/evacuation,” “hazardous materials” and “critical electrical loads”;

• Level 2 ($5.32 million), which includes “integrity/adequacy of systems” and “non-critical seismic upgrades”; and

• Level 3 ($400,700), which includes “access issues,” “aesthetics” and “end-of-life-cycle replacement” for items such as outdated boilers.

WALLIN"There are some items in the capital improvement (category) that could come out because of some things that could possibly be delayed," said John Wallin, a board member.

Board members debated whether all seismic upgrades were crucial, and said they wanted to see if each level could be further itemized.

“We asked for the maintenance budgets to be broken down a little bit,” Wendland said, “for what could be delayed for a while and what could be put toward projects we need to do now.”

Plans A and B both include about $18.94 million to cover a host of miscellaneous costs, including funding personnel, moving students between schools during construction, issuing bonds and adding furniture and fixtures. Those are all packaged as “owner bond management costs,” although Hartman suggested that it might be wise to use words that make it easier for voters to understand how important the services are.

“We’ll work on the language,” Beck said.

As part of the bond process, district officials and board members have attended public meetings of groups such as School Advisory Committees and neighborhood associations, gathered public input at other meetings, conducted The Nelson Report phone survey and commissioned an online forum.

For the past two years, the school district has been assessing the condition of its buildings. A study done last year found at least $98 million in seismic upgrades and deferred maintenance at all school buildings, not counting soft costs such as personnel and design. Subsequent studies have revealed further maintenance needs and higher costs.

The volunteer Bond Development Committee met from February to May to determine which district buildings to focus on. They first narrowed the list to the 10 operating schools and then recommended that most of the work be done at the junior highs and elementary schools.

The next step is for the board to finalize a project list for the bond; that decision is likely by mid-August. And then the task will be to develop a campaign to raise awareness in the community.

“Stick with the messaging and the wording,” Martin told the board. “If you are all consistent, the chances of success grow.”

By Jillian Daley
503-636-1281, ext. 109
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