Oregon voters show overwhelming support for schools
Wednesday, November 4, 2020
The vote for president remains unclear, but Oregon voters are definitive that they believe in school spending. Fourteen out of 17 bonds and local option levies passed in Tuesday’s election.
“Oregonians are supporting their schools even through this pandemic,” said OSBA Executive Director Jim Green. “School districts’ facility needs remain as we work to get kids back in classrooms, and taxpayers continue to understand these needs.”
School districts passed bonds in rural and urban areas, conservative and liberal regions.
The Portland School District sought $1.2 billion, more than three times the rest of the bonds this election combined. The bond passed with three-quarters of the vote yes, one of the highest percentages in the state.
Jackson County, with a history of rejecting taxes, passed Ashland School District’s local option levy with three-quarters of the vote as well.
And not all the bond losses were considered failures.
The McKenzie School District east of Eugene lost, but the school board had passed a resolution asking its community to vote no on its bond.
The board did not think it was appropriate to ask for money when people were still recovering from the September Holiday Farm fire, the resolution said.
“School districts understand the fire devastation on their communities,” Green said. “It will take an entire community effort to rebuild after the fire, and McKenzie’s school leaders are acting as good partners to ensure this community can rebuild and move forward.”
According to Superintendent Lane Tompkins, the fire destroyed roughly 430 homes. The estimated 17% drop in area tax base would have raised the cost from $1.96 per $1,000 to more than $2.30 per $1,000, he said.
“We didn’t think it would be right to ask the community to pay a higher tax rate on top of rebuilding homes,” he said.
McKenzie was eligible for a $4 million Oregon School Capital Improvement Matching grant, but the Oregon Department of Education agreed to move their eligibility to May. If the vote had passed Tuesday, they wouldn’t have received the matching funds, but now the board can consider how much it might seek in the spring.
When the pandemic cratered the economy in the spring, ODE let school districts postpone their OSCIM eligibility to November. Perrydale wasn’t able to get its bond off the ballot in time, so it asked its community to vote no in the spring.
The school district west of Salem came back this November and won its $3 million bond, with OSCIM matching funds.
Perrydale plans extensive remodeling to add space and create larger classrooms as well as areas for physical education, meals and community gatherings. Larger classrooms were a bonus selling point with COVID-19’s demands for more physical distance.
“We want to make our dollars go as far as we can and get use out of every inch of space in the school,” said School Board Chair Trina Comerford.
Waiting for November didn’t work for everyone. The Newberg and Estacada school districts were also on the ballot after deciding not to seek bonds in May. Newberg won, but Estacada lost.
The Harney County School District also told its voters to vote no on its bond in the spring after it shifted its OSCIM eligibility.
The school board revisited its bond plans over the summer and nearly doubled its request to $15 million so that it could renovate all its buildings. Its newest school was built in 1959.
“If we are going out to voters, we wanted to make sure we did it right,” said Superintendent Steve Quick.
Quick said November was a risky proposition for the district, with the presidential election expected to bring out Republican voters in the heavily conservative district.
“Typically Republicans don’t necessarily like tax increases, but they typically support schools,” Quick said.
The district won 42% of the vote in the spring without advertising and telling people to say no so Quick was hopeful, but the bond failed with nearly two-thirds voting no.