Schools across Oregon are struggling with overcrowded, outdated and failing facilities that don’t meet today’s education demands. School districts and community colleges must navigate the long process to convince voters of the need and persuade them to tax themselves for the good of their community.
The biennial conference at the Salem Convention Center brought together more than 250 school leaders and staff, finance professionals and building industry representatives. Workshops tackled communication strategies, planning needs, cost concerns and legal requirements.
Presenters shared winning strategies and lessons learned from successful and not-so-successful efforts to pass bonds and public option levies.
The Siuslaw School District’s 2018 bond attempt failed, and the coastal district west of Eugene assembled a public advisory committee to help make its next pitch. The school board invited them to attend the conference.
Committee member Susy Lacer doesn’t work for the district and doesn’t have a child in the schools, but she said the school system is vital to her community’s economic health.
“If you want change, you have to be willing to step in,” she said.
She said she was inspired by the stories of districts that failed before they won a bond campaign.
Centennial School District Chief Communications Officer Carol Fenstermacher echoed that sentiment.
“We are here to learn from the best,” she said. The east Portland school district is planning a May bond attempt, she said.
Lake County School Board Chair Barry Shullanberger said he was looking for talking points for a November bond election.
He said he related to the challenges described by Harrisburg Superintendent Bryan Starr during the conference’s “Learn From the Winners” panel. Harrisburg is a small community north of Eugene.
Panel members from Harrisburg, Astoria, Corvallis and Eugene advised schools to be thoughtful about exactly what they were asking for and how they presented those requests to voters.