Pamplin Media Group – APPROVAL: Voters Should Support Beaverton School District Bond

It would pay for a set of unexciting but necessary fixes and upgrades to keep the school district on track.

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It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long, but in truth, it’s been eight years since Beaverton School District voters approved a $680 million bond that added a sixth neighborhood high school to the district, a new college and a new primary school, and rebuilt some older school buildings.

This spring, the school board is asking voters to approve a new $723 million bond that will pick up where the 2014 package left off.

The main priority element of this year’s bond action is the total reconstruction of the 105-year-old Beaverton High School, the oldest high school building in Washington County. Raleigh Hills K-8 School, which will soon be turned into an elementary school, is also on the docket for reconstruction.

While the 2014 bond was intended to add schools, increasing the district’s ability to handle the growth of South Cooper Mountain and North Bethany, this year’s bond focuses on rebuilding and upgrading existing facilities. It includes funds to seismically retrofit several district schools that are not designed to withstand the inevitable Cascadia subduction zone earthquake.

Although the bond would not pay for the construction of new campuses, it would increase the capacity of some existing schools. That means building additional classrooms for Stoller Middle School, Oak Hills Elementary School, and even the relatively new Sato Elementary School, which just opened in 2017 after being built with 2014 bond dollars. (Bethany Area, served by these three schools, has seen its population increase by more than half in the last decade; it would now be the fourth largest city in Washington County if it were to incorporate.)

A significant portion of the bond – $120 million – would go towards deferred maintenance.

A common pet peeve of K-12 school districts, the maintenance backlog becomes more expensive to deal with over time, and the longer maintenance is deferred, the more likely it becomes that something will break – a roof will leak, a pipe will burst, a circuit will short out, and so on – and require a more expensive urgent fix.

District officials say every school in the district would benefit from the bond if voters approved it — although some more than others.

Unfortunately, the Beaverton School District under-budgeted school construction associated with the 2014 bond.

As voters approved a $680 million measure, district officials said at the time they would pay for the construction of Mountainside High School, Tumwater Middle School, Elementary School Sato and other new buildings, among other capital projects, the school board acknowledged in 2016 that the list of projects would cost closer to $760 million to complete. Much of the cost overrun was due to Mountainside.

District officials say they have learned from their mistakes. They have a bond accountability team that works directly with staff, and they have adjusted construction schedules in a way they believe will reduce costs.

And although the under-budgeting of school construction several years ago made headlines, the school district dealt with it in the best possible way: it used bond premiums and other revenues to make up the difference between the obligation of $680 million and the budget of $760 million. That means all the projects voters said they wanted ended up being built and taxpayers didn’t have to pay more than they agreed to pay in 2014.

It’s true that it’s not the sexiest measure of obligation. There will be no community naming contests for new schools this time around (although there will be no major redistricting either). Capacity increases will be relatively modest. But buildings age, equipment and technology wear out, and community needs change over time. This link would answer all that.

Taxpayers in the Beaverton School District will see their property taxes increase by 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed value with the passage of this mandatory measure. While this may seem high at a time when families are struggling with inflation, at the end of the day, if the measure fails, that doesn’t mean the needs will go away – it will just cost more to pay for them later, and in the meantime, the school district will shrink due to outdated facilities and rising maintenance costs.

We recommend “yes” to measure 34-313 to maintain and modernize Beaverton schools.

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