Frequently Asked Questions
Wait, what’s on the ballot this May?
In less than three weeks, on May 16, , voters within the boundaries of Portland Public Schools will have the opportunity to support Measure 26-193. The measure asks for approval of a bond package that would generate $790 million to correct health and safety hazards at every school within the district and bring them to current standards for construction and education. Simply put, our schools not only need to be modernized, but to be made safe and healthy places for our young people.
What specific projects will be funded by passage of this Bond?
Last summer, lead was discovered in at least one pipe, faucet or fountain at every one of PPS' ninety schools at levels above the recommended safe exposure level established by the Environmental Protection Agency; most schools also had at least one positive test for copper. Measure 26-193 would provide $324 million for removing lead, copper, asbestos and radon from all 90 PPS schools. The measure also would fund fire alarms and/or sprinklers, accessibility and seismic improvements, enhanced security systems, and fix failing roofs.
Furthermore, this school bond would pay for renovation and rebuilding of three high schools Benson Polytechnic, Madison and Lincoln, as well as Kellogg Middle School. Finally, the bond also includes funding to begin planning for modernization of Wilson, Jefferson and Cleveland high schools.
Why is this such a big deal?
Lead is a notoriously dangerous neurotoxin widely known to cause irreparable brain damage, with children being most susceptible. The prevalence of lead in the pipes and paint of these old buildings reflects the systemic, chronic underinvestment in the infrastructure of our public schools, and every dollar spent on lead remediation dramatically improves public health outcomes and cognitive development for students across the district.
Wait, didn’t we just pass a bond?
In November 2012, Portlanders approved Measure 26-144, which funded renovations of Grant, Roosevelt, and Franklin high schools and Faubion K-8 school, as well as 52 major seismic and safety upgrades across the district. The 2012 bond proposal was the first significant financing package passed for improvement and expansion of PPS schools since 1945. The average PPS school is 77 years old and few meet modern codes for earthquake and fire safety.
Only two schools have been built within the district in the last 30 years: North Portland’s Rosa Parks Elementary and Northwest Portland’s Forest Park K-5. Portland Public Schools have laid out a 30-year plan to modernize all of their schools across the district. Measure 26-193’s passage would allocate funding to prepare for a future modernization of Jefferson, Wilson and Cleveland High Schools. It wouldn’t be realistic to include all schools in this phase because there is a limit to how much work can be accomplished in the available timeframe. Bonds must be funded within a limited amount of time and there is a limit to the workforce capacity for construction.
How much is this going to cost?
Over the 30-year life of the bond, Portland property owners will pay 68 cents $1,000 of assessed property value; the bond will cost $1.40 for the first four years and drop to $.38 cents for the remainder of the bond. A typical household in PPS’ district assessed at $200,000 would pay an average of approximately $11.30 a month for the duration of the bond. When combined with the 2012 bond, Portland property owners will pay $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value, a rate that would not increase through future potential bond renewals for future modernization projects.
What oversight is in place to ensure this money will be spent responsibly and effectively?
Portland Public Schools’ Office of School Modernization includes significant citizen oversight. The people on this board are not employees of PPS; instead, they are from the local community with expertise in building design construction, public contracting, budgeting and auditing. These individuals also have public reputations for fairness and transparency. The committee meets regularly to report out on a variety of areas related to the modernization project. Also built into the PPS School Building Improvement Bond are annual, independent financial and performance audits presented to the BAC and the PPS Board. Every BAC report and minutes from BAC’s quarterly meetings are available online.
Portland Public Schools is in the midst of significant transition. Why should we trust PPS with this bond?
The district has a team of people dedicated to the school modernization project. They have put in countless hours planning these projects; implementation of these vital health and safety improvements are prepared to start the first day that students leave the buildings for summer break, as they did with the 2012 Bond. Additionally, by this June, Portland Public Schools will have a new superintendent, and 3 of the 7 members of PPS’ board will be newly elected officials ready to lead PPS to the next chapter of their work educating Portland’s students.
Why does PPS need to raise everyone’s property taxes when it receives ongoing funding and a local levy to run the schools?
The district’s spends approximately $600 million a year; the largest portion of the general fund revenue comes from the Oregon Department of Education, which additional funding from Portland’s local option levy, most recently approved in November 2014. None of the existing revenue in the district’s budget can be allocated to construction of capital improvements; 81% of the General Fund goes directly towards hiring people including teachers, educators, and faculty.
Why should we spend money on infrastructure when our state’s funding for teachers is currently threatened?
It’s true that schools across the district are concerned about the potential loss of funding for teachers and educational programming. The average PPS facility is 77 years old, and our students simply can’t wait for these desperately needed improvements for classrooms free of neurotoxins and carcinogens. Passage of Measure 26-193 in May helps encourage our elected officials in Salem to continue pressing onward for investments in education by demonstrating that we as a community are willing to invest in the success of future generations of Portlanders. Should this bond fail, it would likely be years before PPS is able to secure funding for these necessary improvements to the health and safety of our schools. Funding raised by this bond would be constitutionally limited to being spent on capital improvement projects, and could not be diverted to fund teachers or other educational programming.
Don't we have other sources of revenue? Why don't we use the existing taxes on marijuana / lottery funding?
In 2016, Oregon raised $60.2 million on marijuana tax receipts from the statewide 17% sales tax, far above the anticipated revenues. However, this funding is collected and distributed into the state coffers; even if every dollar of the marijuana taxes collected statewide was distributed to Portland Public Schools, it represents less than one-twelfth the amount necessary to complete these crucial health and safety improvements that would be funded by Measure 26-193. Similarly, annual revenue raised statewide by the Oregon Lottery is small compared to the need for physical infrastructure improvements proposed in this bond.
Many Portlanders are worried about the cost of housing. Why should we support a vote for increased property taxes?
Undeniably, Portland faces a housing shortage; the city’s population growth has exceeded the number of new housing units built until a recent uptick in new construction. This mismatch has caused significant frustration amongst Portlanders experiencing difficulty affording rents, avoiding displacement, and navigating low vacancy rates. However, a vote for improving the infrastructure of our public schools is a vote in support of expanding access to excellent schools to a larger percentage of the district, ensuring a larger housing supply of places to live in neighborhoods with a modern, safe, healthy, quality local school. Many affordable housing advocates including Hacienda CDC, Oregon Opportunity Network and OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon have endorsed Measure 26-193 because of the significant impact that safe, healthy schools have on their constituents, many of them tenants and residents in neighborhoods that will matriculate students through the improved Kellogg, Madison and Benson Polytechnic schools.
Why are modernizations of high schools being prioritized over elementary or middle schools?
By addressing major necessary renovations to high schools first, we disrupt children’s education at fewer points. If the district prioritized renovations at elementary schools, it’s possible for an entire generation of students to pass through renovations through the duration of their K-12 tenure and destabilize their education. The 2012 bond renovated Faubion Elementary, and Measure 26-193 will rebuild Kellogg Middle School to help address PPS’ recommitment to middle school programming and address the growth of student population.
Why is Lincoln getting an entirely new building while Benson and Madison are only getting renovated?
Ultimately, when the cost of student relocation was factored into the costs of construction, it was cheaper to build a new high school for Lincoln on the current location of the school’s football field and tear down the existing structure. Additionally, the existing historic architecture of Benson and Madison was more cost-effective to preserve than Lincoln’s. Benson High School’s renovation is ultimately more expensive than Lincoln’s new building.
How long will the proposed school upgrades take and what happens to students during that time?
Construction can take anywhere from 12 to 24 months; students at Madison will move into Marshall High School. (Students from Franklin went to Marshall during the renovation of their school, which is wrapping up on time and on budget. Franklin will reopen to students this fall. The renovation of Grant High School will begin this fall, and Grant’s students will be bussed to Marshall for the 2017-18 school year.)
What happens if this doesn’t pass?
We really don’t want to contemplate that because we know that our children need much better accommodations. It’s of utmost importance we provide learning opportunities that equip our young people to be successful for college and career and many of our schools in need of upgrades simply aren’t conducive to that.
Without the upgrades this bond proposal would provide, students will continue to miss the opportunity for the best possible education and one on par that being provided to students in other parts of the state and country.
If we continue with the status quo, the district will continue to spend money on health and safety emergencies, maintaining old and failing buildings and limp along without any real, long-term solution.
Who supports this campaign?
The Portlanders for Safe and Healthy Schools campaign was formed in response to the unanimous vote by the PPS Board on February 28 to refer Measure 26-193 to voters. The campaign is a coalition of teachers, parents, community advocates, small business owners, local politicians and everyday Portlanders who want to support health and safety improvements at Portland Public Schools. Endorsers of our campaign include Disability Rights Oregon, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, Portland Business Alliance, Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, Black Parent Initiative, Oregon Tradeswomen, INC, Oregon Environmental Council, and elected officials representing PPS, the City of Portland, Multnomah County, Metro, State Senators and Representatives as well as Congressman Earl Blumenauer and Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici. The Measure is also supported by Students Helping Organize Votes to Enhance Learning Spaces (SHOVELS), a Political Action Committee started and organized by PPS students. Check out our full list HERE.
When are ballots due?
Ballots will be mailed to PPS voters the week of Monday, April 24th, and are due to the County by 8pm on May 16th, 2017. Ballots can be returned via mail with a stamp up to May 13th, and can be returned up to 8pm on Tuesday, May 16th at any of the County dropboxes and libraries. Check HERE to find your nearest ballot dropsite.
How can I get involved?
Sign up to volunteer! We have numerous opportunities for Portland community members who want to help us turn out the vote this May.
PPS FAST FACTS
It is the largest district in the state; PPS has more than 48,500 students and more than 90 school sites. PPS students make up approximately 8% of the entire population of the city of Portland.
The district is the city’s second largest property owner.
As one of the largest organizations in the region, PPS employs more than 5,000.
More than 8 of 10 students living in Portland attend PPS; enrollment in the past four years has increased by 1,000 and is projected to exceed 50,000 by 2022.
45% of Portland Public School students identify as non-white.