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Citizen's View: LO School Board expects to make bond recommendation by August

HARTMANNext week, the Lake Oswego School Board begins evaluating nearly two years of study about the district’s buildings, which are this community’s greatest institutional asset.

The only financial means for the district to protect the public’s investment is through a bond, which requires the vote of citizens. The school board has been dedicated to a process that gathered facts and involved citizens who made recommendations and provided the information the board needs to make decisions about what will go into a responsible, responsive, realistic bond proposal.

Over the past years, the district made decisions to fund teachers and defer maintenance. The result is that buildings have deteriorated. Students continued to be successful in school, but the buildings where they learn have not been modernized and now need work. Under today’s system of state school funding, building improvements can only happen by issuing a bond.

The board will define the content of the bond request to voters by starting with repairs, investigating the cost benefit of seismic upgrades, understanding whether every student and teacher gets reliable technology delivery and deciding when it is appropriate to replace rather than repair to maximize the community’s return on investment in these buildings.

The recommendation to the community should come by August.

If you own a home, you know a roof is essential. You know how important working pipes are for reliable, working bathrooms. You probably want your windows sealed so moisture doesn’t seep through. Those are just some of the fixes the school district has not made — and now needs to make in nearly every building.

In addition, when many of our school buildings were built, standards did not exist that indicated buildings needed different construction to withstand the effects of earthquakes. Buildings also weren’t built with consideration about how to protect students from intruders. They were built for education.

Old construction also didn’t plan around technology — computers, streaming video, electronic devices and Wi-Fi. School buildings now need to be upgraded to accommodate all students with reliable delivery of video for teachers to use as a tool, Wi-Fi for students to use search tools on computers, electrical systems that can accommodate safety locks and cooling systems that can keep these electrical needs cool and running efficiently and reliably.

There’s a good chance that everything the district needs cannot be accomplished in one bond. The board is looking to the future and wants a regular maintenance schedule for ALL district buildings. There will be an ongoing facilities committee to evaluate current and upcoming needs. That means there will be more bonds — to repair when needed and to rebuild as the costs of repair don’t give an adequate return on investment — and ongoing evaluation of whether Lake Oswego can fund buildings commensurate with the community’s educational expectations.

The community made a solid investment in building these buildings. In a few weeks, the school board will articulate to the community the content of a bond proposal to protect that investment.

Liz Hartman is chairwoman of the Lake Oswego School Board.