Activists argued the building improvements couldn’t wait. Students sat at spots reserved for public comments and delayed the opening of the regular board meeting, refusing to move and occasionally interrupting board chair Tom Koehler, as he tried to run the meeting. Parents held up signs urging the board to speed up the bond time frame. Former city council candidate Stuart Emmons presented board members with a rough bond proposal based on the previously-agreed to bond amount of $750 million.
Emmons previously served on Portland’s bond development committee, and helped craft the successful 2012 bond. A letter he wrote with the support of other parents helped re-open the conversation about the timing of the PPS bond.
In his letter, Emmons wrote last Friday, “If we fail to submit a bond for the November ballot, as you propose to do, the rebuilding of over 70 schools will be at risk of long delays or even stopped all together. Ironically, the need has become even more visible in the last 4 months. Lead. Radon. Mold. Asbestos.”
“Last year, we all became more aware of the Cascadian Subduction zone,” the letter continues. “While most of Portland’s adults work in safer, more inspiring workplaces, our children and teachers learn and teach in structures and environments that are a stain on who we are and what our priorities are.”
But board members voted 4-3 to stick with the May time frame, saying there was more work to be done to craft a final package of projects. Two board members - Paul Anthony and Julie Esparza-Brown changed their stance from the initial delay vote, conducted in July. They joined Mike Rosen, who was the only board member to argue in favor of putting the bond on the November ballot, when the board voted 6-1 to delay it.
Back in July, board members cited the controversy over lead in school drinking water and the absence of a district superintendent as reasons to postpone. Parents argue that a vote in May could be harder to win.
Interim superintendent Bob McKean started last week. He offered something of the last words on the debate over the date of the bond measure at his first official board meeting as superintendent, when he called on advocates to show “courtesy” and that the volunteer board members be “treated with respect.”
McKean’s comments followed a flurry of emails over the Labor Day weekend and through Tuesday from parents and people with a long history of advocacy in Oregon’s largest district. Former board chair Julia Brim-Edwards and developer Tom Walsh were among those pressing the school board to speed up the bond timeline.
But it appeared clear by Tuesday afternoon that changing the date was a long shot. Chair Tom Koehler sent an email on Sunday giving three main reasons for delaying the bond: the need to rebuild trust with the PPS community, a new focus for the bond package on health and safety needs, and the lack of administrative support due to numerous vacancies.
Koehler’s response was followed on Tuesday by Pam Knowles, and by vice-chair Amy Kohnstamm, who wrote, “We have spent the summer investing in assessments of our district’s health and safety needs, in order to prioritize projects and schools. This detailed information will be available to us later this fall, to provide to the voters for a May campaign.”