At their meeting Monday night, the Portland school board declined to move a $750 million bond to the fall ballot. Board member Amy Kohnstamm proposed a delay.
“As the chair of the bond committee, and conferring with the other members of our committee, we feel that it’s most prudent to bring this package to the voters in May of 2017, so that we can focus our immediate attention on finding new leadership,” Kohnstamm said.
Portland Public Schools has been without a superintendent since Carole Smith stepped down last week. Her immediate retirement came on the heels of a report on lead in drinking water that raised numerous problems in district management, leadership and communications.
Other board members supported Kohnstamm’s call for a delay. The two other members of the board’s bond committee, Paul Anthony and Pam Knowles, agreed with Kohnstamm.
They noted the fall election will have other money measures, and the district is still collecting information about school health problems, including the presence of lead and asbestos.
“We have to acknowledge that we are not where we should be, in order to approach the voters,” said Paul Anthony.
“I’m particularly concerned about our ability to go out for a bond in November given where we are in the development of a final bond package, particularly with the inclusion now of more health and safety pieces that are outside our high schools,” Knowles said, noting that the district’s long-term plan calls for rebuilding three more high schools with the upcoming bond.
Knowles also noted that other measures with tax implications are on the horizon.
“One of the other things that’s been of concern to me for quite some time is what a crowded ballot we have in November, and how many other revenue measures are on that ballot,” Knowles said.
The only dissent came from Mike Rosen, who argued that the bond may prove tough to pass in either case.
“I don’t think any of these challenges will go away, whether it’s May or November,” Rosen said. “I just wish the process were different. I mean, last week, we told the community we’re going out for a bond in November. Now, within hours of this meeting, we’ve decided we’re not going to.”
Rosen has been one of the toughest critics of the district’s handling of environmental issues in schools. He underscored the urgency of the district’s facility problems, and the need to keep the public involved, as the board continues to debate its timeline.
“There are a lot of advantages to hustling and going forward in November - but I know there are two sides of this,” Rosen said. “I’m speaking out for community input.”
The board technically still has time to put the bond to voters this fall, if members change their minds.