Portland Public Schools voters have again approved a construction bond for the state’s largest school district, according to unofficial election returns.
The district’s 2020 bond, worth $1.2 billion, passed by a nearly three-to-one margin, according to the latest results published Wednesday morning.
The measure asked voters to back major investments in two high schools, as well as the establishment of a new Center for Black Student Excellence, and a range of other priorities from new laptops to expanded alarm systems and improved school heating.
The appearance of Measure 26-215 on the ballot marked the fourth time in a little less than a decade that Portland Public Schools had gone to voters for support of a construction bond with a big sticker price. Voters approved two of the previous three bonds — in 2012 and 2017 — but rejected a measure in 2011.
The bonds are part of a 30-year effort to overhaul the district’s dozens of aging buildings, with a focus on rebuilding or significantly renovating the high schools first. The bond plans include a continuation of smaller projects at other schools, including health and safety projects like roof replacements, seismic retrofits and improved accessibility for people with disabilities.
Angela Jarvis-Holland, executive director of the Northwest Down Syndrome Association, spoke in support of the measure Tuesday.
"This bond gives us the possibility to realize dreams that we’ve been waiting on for a long time,” Jarvis-Holland said.
With the passage of Measure 26-215, Portland voters will help the district complete construction of a new Benson Polytechnic High School which started under the 2017 bond, and will fund a major overhaul of Jefferson High School. Focus was tightened on Jefferson, Portland’s historically majority Black high school in North Portland, amid Black Lives Matter protests and pressure from leaders in the city’s African American community.
“I’m so proud of how it’s come together and what it represents for PPS and our city moving forward, and how we’re thinking about our children, specifically our Black and brown children,” said Albina Vision managing director Winta Yohannes.
The 2020 bond will also start planning for major changes at Cleveland and Wilson high schools, the only PPS high schools that have not already undergone major work in the last several years.
Even with a $1.2 billion total cost, the schools bond will not increase property taxes above the $2.50 per $1,000 in assessed value that property owners were paying already.
The measure overcame overly optimistic cost estimates and significant budget overruns from the 2017 bond. Those problems led to the Benson project being phased across two bonds, rather than fully funded by the 2017 bond, as initially promised to voters.
“This could’ve been a time when PPS could’ve retreated or been timid in our aspirations, certainly the external environment might’ve called for that, where we could’ve played small ball. But we didn’t,” said Julia Brim-Edwards, the bond campaign chair and a PPS board member.
“Portlanders wanted a bold vision and an investment in students and schools, and the PPS school board, along with the community, responded with a package that made historic investments in equity and accessibility,” Brim-Edwards said.