The Portland Public Schools board approved a bond measure for the Nov. 3 ballot at a meeting Tuesday evening. At $1.2 billion, the bond will include funds to renovate Jefferson High School and finish modernizing Benson High School.
“Every student in the district is going to benefit from the investments that we’re making in technology, in updated textbooks, in the culturally relevant curriculum and increased building accessibility for students, staff and families,” PPS board member Andrew Scott said.
Plans for bond funds are broken up into three categories.
The proposal includes $228.8 million in updates to the curriculum, technology, and greater accessibility for people with disabilities.
Approximately $183.8 million of bond funds would go to health and safety projects including roof repairs and replacing the systems that heat and cool buildings.
But the largest chunk of bond funds, $639 million, would support the modernization of Jefferson High School, plus planning and design for Cleveland and Wilson High Schools. The district also plans to use some of that money to finish construction on Benson Polytechnic High School.
Part of the modernization funding includes $60 million for designing a “Center for Black Student Excellence,” part of what PPS calls a “focused investment” in the neighborhood schools surrounding Jefferson.
In a report to the board on the bond referral, staff said the center “will serve as a living expression of Portland Public Schools’ expressed commitment to Black Lives.”
Community members showed support for including Jefferson High School in this year’s bond proposal. The bond heading to voters this fall is larger than the district’s initial three options but reflects the feedback collected during a virtual town hall and through other community engagement efforts. PPS said the idea for the Center for Black Student Excellence came out of community engagement.
PPS board member Michelle DePass said the Center for Black Student Excellence may “sound vague,” but it’s because it’ll be open for “the community to reimagine what this center looks like.”
“Shiny new building aside, I’m excited to realize, acknowledge, love, cherish and value the excellence that’s the Black community today,” DePass said. “To show kids we care; we are listening.”
The bond will continue to have an external bond performance auditor reviewing bond spending. It will also have ongoing reviews and audits by external financial auditors who will look at compliance with state and public regulations and laws.
Though the bond is the largest ever for the district, it is a continuation of the current tax rate from the bond voters approved in 2017. The district plans to return to voters with a renewal in 2024 to continue its work.
The PPS bond will likely have a lot of company on the ballot, between a Metro transportation bond and possible measures for homeless services and universal preschool. Polling shared with the PPS board recently showed a majority of voters support the bond.
“I think that we’re in a really exciting moment within Portland Public Schools,” PPS board member Scott said. “Voters were very generous in 2012 and generous in 2017, and we’re at the point now that if we can just maintain this tax rate and continue to come forward with these bond renewal cycles, we really can, over the next couple of decades, make a huge difference in the infrastructure in the schools that our kids attend.”