First, the $64 million bond ($92 million with interest) won’t rebuild any schools. It will make repairs and renovations at four of our nine elementary buildings, but not a single new school will be built if this bond passes.
Second, there are seventeen schools in the Portland Public School System which, taken together, require more than $320 million of work in the next twenty years. Passing a bond focused on just four schools—instead of making a comprehensive plan for the entire system—limits our ability to address other critical needs while maintaining teachers and providing essential learning materials and opportunities.
Portland has qualified for a brand-new school in every state funding cycle in which we have applied. Last April, the Portland Board of Education spent over $100 thousand completing and submitting applications for state funding for Longfellow, Reiche, Lyseth, and Presumpscot—the four schools that are the focus of the $64 million bond.
Based on past performance, the strength of our applications, and the field of applicants, we know we are well-positioned to receive funding for two or more of these schools during this cycle. But if the $64 million bond passes on November 7th, we will have to withdraw these costly applications without ever learning if we qualified for the funding, because schools that have been bonded locally are not eligible for state funds.
Indeed, there is no realistic plan under which construction on any school could begin before June of 2019. So, it makes sense to find out what the state will provide before we put local taxpayers on the hook for $92 million they may not need to spend.
One option is to vote “NO” on both Question 3 and Question 4 and wait for the state list before bonding any schools. The school board can incorporate immediate school needs into their 2018-2019 Capital Improvement Plan. And once we know which of our schools the state will fund, we can chart a course to address needs across the system sustainably and responsibly.
The other prudent option is to vote “NO” on Question 3 and “YES” on Question 4.
Question 4 asks local taxpayers to bond two schools now and wait for the state list before acting on the others. This $32 million bond ($46 million with interest) was proposed by Councilors Jill Duson and Nick Mavodones as a compromise, and it is a much better deal for Portland than the larger school bond. Passing Question 4 will have less of an impact on local taxpayers and preserve Portland’s opportunity to leverage state funding.
Both of these options provide a better path forward for Portland, and both will allow us to address the capital needs at all our schools without unnecessarily burdening local taxpayers, eliminating teachers, or short changing curricular needs.
So please, vote “NO” on Question 3 and put Portland on the right path to provide excellent education for all our students.