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Portland Public Schools Wins Record $790 Million Bond Measure


A yard sign supporting a $790 bond measure for the Portland Public Schools in Portland, Oregon, is seen on May 9, 2017, on the lawn of a home that's just blocks from an elementary school that was built in 1925. The school bond measure, the largest in state history, passed Tuesday, May 16, 2017.

A yard sign supporting a $790 bond measure for the Portland Public Schools in Portland, Oregon, is seen on May 9, 2017, on the lawn of a home that's just blocks from an elementary school that was built in 1925. The school bond measure, the largest in state history, passed Tuesday, May 16, 2017.

Gillian Flaccus/AP

Despite a plague of public relations troubles, the largest school bond in Oregon history has passed with nearly 66 percent of the vote. The victory means Portland Public Schools can ramp up efforts to clean up health hazards and overhaul four big schools. 

The $790 million dollar bond measure was a heavy lift. It combined the costs of rebuilding or renovating four schools – Benson, Lincoln and Madison high schools and Kellogg Middle School – with $150 million in health improvements, such as getting lead out of school drinking water.

For homes assessed at the district average of about $175,000, it means a tax hit of $245 per year for the first few years.

Measure 26-193 passed with 65.95 percent of the votes cast in favor, compared to 34.05 percent opposed as of 6 a.m. Wednesday morning. Voters supported the bond despite Portland’s high-profile stumbles, such as the last-minute withdrawal of the sole finalist to become the district’s next superintendent.

The victory marks the second time in five years that Portland voters have approved a bond measure worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

“It’s been a turbulent time for Portland Public Schools, and it is difficult to have a referendum to the voters without a permanent superintendent,” said Amy Kohnstamm, the school board’s vice chair. “But the team we have in place that’s been running our 2012 bond is fantastic. I mean that work has been on time, on budget.”

The tax measure means Portland administrators can quickly address environmental hazards, like lead in school drinking water, which had damaged trust and ousted Superintendent Carole Smith.

But school board chair Tom Koehler said the bond election result reflects on Portland’s support for its schools.

“This reinforces that Portlanders care about their schools, about our community, and that schools are the foundation of our community,” said Koehler.

Campaign organizers credited a slew of organizations that helped get the measure passed - from trade unions to teachers, environmental groups, community organizations and students.

“I was hoping for the best but I was trying to prepare myself for falling short,” said Raja Moreno, a Lincoln High sophomore who worked with other students to raise awareness of the bond measure’s importance. “I was really happy to see the results roll in, and to see that the community cares about their public schools.”

The measure’s passage also means the district can continue its efforts to rebuild and replace its aging buildings. The bond’s passage is the second of a cycle of bonds expected to last decades - but bond supporters and district officials expect future bond measures to maintain - rather than increase - current tax levels. 

Portland Public voters also elected three new members to the school board: Julia Brim-Edwards, Scott Bailey and Rita Moore. Three incumbent board members had opted not to seek reelection.  

Watch: Here’s what was at stake with the district’s bond vote.

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