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Beaverton Voters Face 'Big Ask' On May Ballot

OPB | April 30, 2014 midnight | Updated: April 30, 2014 4:38 p.m. | Beaverton, Oregon

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Beaverton voters in this May’s election could break a record for school construction funding.

Voters there are being asked to approve a bond that would dwarf Portland’s $482 million construction measure.

The curved walls of Vose Elementary, built in 1962, are a challenge.

The curved walls of Vose Elementary, built in 1962, are a challenge.

Rob Manning / OPB

Any time the dollar figure is bigger than voters have been asked to approve before, you risk sticker shock.

Beaverton board member Linda Degman acknowledges that.

“I think that, that will probably catch people’s eye because $680 million is a lot of money. So there will be some of that. But knowing that we’re not changing the tax rate, it will stay, the tax rate will stay at that $2.11 per thousand - is a positive going forward. And we’re not asking for more money. We just want to keep what we’re already getting,” Degman says.

Rob Manning / OPB

The district is able to generate so much money without raising people’s property taxes because it’s retiring an earlier bond, and replacing it with one on a longer timeline.

So that’s the how. The why is largely the same as it always is for school construction bonds: leaders say Beaverton’s schools are too crowded and too old.

About half the proposed bond - or $340 million - would go towards building seven brand new schools.

Of those – four would replace buildings that have so many problems, it makes more sense to replace them, than fix them up.

“You always do your return-on-investment,” Degman says.

Perhaps no building makes that case more clearly than Vose Elementary, near Highway 217.

It has the kinds of problems you always hear about, when schools get old.

The roof, plumbing, and wiring are aging, and costly to maintain.

But Vose has other issues. It opened in 1962 - so it’s from a different era.

The Jetsons premiered in 1962, and from above, the round buildings of Vose Elementary resemble “Orbit High” where Judy Jetson went to school. But in the real world?

 Music classes at Vose are conducted in portable buildings.

 Music classes at Vose are conducted in portable buildings.

Rob Manning / OPB

Vose principal Veronica Galvan admits she’s never seen a school like Vose.  “Never in my life. Mad Max Thunderdome, maybe.”

Vose’s round buildings mean curved walls in the classrooms - and in hallways. So teachers lose sight of students, but Galvan says there is a bright side.

“The only good thing about this circle is kindergartners - if they run away, you just wait - and they’re going to come back around,” Galvan laughs.

In the center of the rounds are common spaces, that can’t fit all 720 students enrolled here.

The gym’s capacity is just over 200 students. The cafeteria is so small, the school has to run six lunch periods.

“So our assemblies are tough to have. We have to break them up. Whenever we want to celebrate something together - we can’t.”

Vose students go to a portable classroom for music, for instance.

Portable classrooms are crowded at Westview, which is 25 percent over capacity.

Portable classrooms are crowded at Westview, which is 25 percent over capacity.

Rob Manning / OPB

So even though Vose is listed in the “repair” category of the bond, it has capacity problems, too.

Three new buildings would go up in Beaverton purely for capacity reasons - to help overcrowded schools, like Westview High.

It’s 25 percent over capacity. That’s most noticeable between classes, when students fill the hallways.

There are already hundreds of Westview students squeezed into portable classrooms, in the back. But those only meet some needs.

Westview principal, Mike Chamberlain points out the portables don’t have water for restrooms - or science labs.

“We only have so many science rooms. So when you start adding classes, that’s one of the areas that becomes a real difficult challenge. How do you have more biology classes, when you don’t have any more science labs? And we don’t have any more,” Chamberlain says.

Closely packed portables at Westview.

Closely packed portables at Westview.

Rob Manning / OPB

The Beaverton bond would fund a brand-new high school on the south side of the district. The district says that would keep high schools within capacity at least through 2025.

Spokeswoman Maureen Wheeler says it’d also let the district move away from portables.

“We’ll be projecting that about 60 portables will be reduced from about 209 classrooms that we have currently,” Wheeler says.

There are no arguments in opposition to the measure in the voters’ guide. The Oregonian recently editorialized in opposition to the bond. The paper’s editorial board called the bond a “mega-ask.” It said the proposal includes “worthy projects,” but suggested the bond should be broken up into two parts instead. The editorial also questioned the bond’s $70 million for technology upgrades.

Halls are crowded at Westview High School during class changes.

Halls are crowded at Westview High School during class changes.

Rob Manning / OPB

A large number of Beaverton voters don’t have students in the district.  So bond supporters, like board member Linda Degman, will have to convince them to say “yes.”

“We need to be educating our students, in the best facilities that we possibly can, to make sure they’re getting the best possible education, because they’re the ones who will be leading our community in the future, so it benefits all of us,” Degman says.

The last time Beaverton got voter support for a tax measure, it was the second attempt at passing an operating levy. Portland failed on a first attempt with its latest construction bond.

Beaverton officials are hoping the bond will pass on the first try, next month.

 

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