Portland Public Schools: Bond Measure, For Better or Worse (by Guest Student Blogger Maria Baker)

NOTE: The following is a post from guest student blogger Maria Baker, who volunteered this summer through the James John SUN Program and participated in my UNST 421: Summer Youth Enrichment course.

Portland Public Schools are not exactly known for providing excellent education. There is constant debate over how to improve low state test scores and graduation rates. An upcoming 482 million dollar bond proposal for Portland Public Schools might be just what they need. The average age of a public school in America is about forty years old; this is a point of embarrassment as with age come pest infestations, leaks in pipes and roofs, hazardous materials like lead and asbestos and overfilled classrooms. To add insult to injury, Portland’s average age for schools is about sixty-five years. This is why the bond proposal to be voted on in the fall is so important.

Nobody wants to be put in an unsafe situation but that’s what thousands of students are subjected to each and every day they go to school here in Portland. If an earthquake were to hit Portland, many of our public schools would not stand a chance. About seventy million from the bond would go the help twenty-six schools remodel for seismic strengthening and improving roofs. They are necessary repairs if we want students to have the chance to learn in a safe environment.

There are four schools in Portland that are in such a state of disrepair that they must be replaced completely. Grant, Franklin, and Roosevelt high schools and Faubion K-8 would need 278 million dollars from the bond for the modernizations. These are the schools that need our help the most. They are literally falling apart, and they hinder students from learning at their greatest potential. Not only are the buildings dangerous but they are inefficient. After controlling for poverty, Students score about 10 percentile points lower on state tests if they attend a school in sub par condition. I would imagine it would be quite depressing and difficult to learn in a stuffy unventilated, outdated and vandalized classroom. Upon touring some of the PPS facilities, A writer for the Willamette Weekly commented they witnessed “schools that look like they belong in Detroit (sorry, Detroit) rather than the City of Roses”. This comment really struck me because I think Portland is such a beautiful and thriving city, how can this be going on here?

 A recent PARADE article “Rebuilding America’s Schools” highlighted how a bond could turn a school around in the right direction. Santa Ana high school in California was in a lower income area, and like most schools around the nation it needed a facelift badly. A 200 million dollar bond was approved to improve 56 schools. Santa Ana high school received forty million to remodel and since then vandalism has nearly stopped and attendance has increased. The article also mentions another bond measure success story coming out of Kentucky. The rebuilding of Richardson Elementary cut its energy costs to be about a quarter of an average school’s. The 2700 solar panels that cover the roof not only generate enough for the school, but also for the rest of the school district. To make it even better, the entire district consumes less energy than the panels produce and the district is able to sell back that extra energy to the grid. I was really inspired by this because it visibly shows how a renovation can contribute back to the community which supported it.

Portland Public Schools needs our support in order for anything to happen. Last years proposed bond to rebuild PPS was favored in early polls but it ended up being narrowly rejected by voters. Critics of the bond include homeowners on a fixed income as the bond would raise income taxes $1.10 per $1000 of assessed property value for the next eight years. I think that board members really tried to budget this years bond; it is nearly one dollar less per $1000 than the rejected bond from last year. If the bond passes then it will be the largest local government bond measure in Oregon history. The problems in our public school system is also fittingly the largest educational need in our state’s history as well so for me passing this bond measure makes complete sense. For better or worse Portland students must continue their education, so why would we not try to help?

Have your own input on the bond that you think PPS should hear? E-mail schoolmodernization@pps.net



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