School bond-matching program considers option for canceled May elections
Friday, March 20, 2020
Oregon’s school bond-matching program is proposing letting qualified districts that had planned a May election shift to November.
The Oregon School Capital Improvement Matching program matches local bonds one to one up to $4 million and up to $4 million more depending on a formula. This biennium, the Legislature allocated $31.2 million per election. Applications for OSCIM grants exceed the state’s allotted amounts, though, and the program has wait lists.
The OSCIM application deadline for the November election has already passed, so districts that pulled out of the May 2020 elections would not be eligible again until May 2021 under current rules. The proposed temporary rules would allow districts that dropped out this May to be eligible in November.
Michael Elliott, Oregon Department of Education school facilities program manager, said districts told him the current coronavirus situation was making running an election difficult.
Social distancing requirements for the coronavirus pandemic have wiped out meetings and gatherings to promote the need for a school bond. At the same time, the state’s rapid job loss is straining communities, making it a tough time to ask for tax money.
The OSCIM Program is proposing two funding tracks for November, according to Elliott.
The May 2020 funds would go to any districts that win in May as well as ones that reschedule for November and win. Districts on the May wait list would have to wait until November to learn if they received money. The November funds would be allocated separately to November participants who have already qualified.
The change would require a temporary rules approval from the State Board of Education, probably in April. After that, Elliott would work with his advisory group to set up a timetable for districts wanting to try November.
The deadline to withdraw from the May election was Thursday, March 19, so the proposal comes too late for districts that have stayed in.
The Baker School District was among the districts that had already decided to pull out of the May election.
“We believe it is not prudent right now to put that kind of question in front of our community,” said Baker School Board member and OSBA Board President Kevin Cassidy.
He said the board would have to discuss whether they wanted to try in November or wait for May 2021. The decision would likely depend on the ongoing economic impact from the coronavirus pandemic in the eastern Oregon community.
For some districts, November was already a bad option.
The Centennial School District is still planning to go forward in May, said Chief Communications Officer Carol Fenstermacher. The May election makes their bond a renewal, keeping their east Portland community’s tax rates the same. If they wait until November, their old bond will have dropped off and it will look like a new tax.