Voters approved Portland Public Schools' $790 million construction bond Tuesday night with 65 percent of the vote.
It was a victory for a district that has suffered a string of negative headlines since May 2016, when parents and media reports forced Portland Public Schools to acknowledge how officials ignored or underplayed decades of deferred maintenance in PPS schools. The 2016 reports focused on the presence of lead in schools' drinking water, which school administrators had allowed children to drink unfiltered for years.
The campaign to pass the bond, dubbed Portlanders for Safe and Healthy Schools, attempted to turn last year's public relations crisis into a selling point for the bond, noting how money from the bond's proceeds would significantly reduce lead hazards in schools. Only a portion of the bond would pay for safety upgrades in schools. Most of the money was designated for rebuilding Lincoln, Madison and Benson high schools as well as Kellogg Middle School.
"Everyone wants their kids to have great schools," said interim Superintendent Bob McKean before the initial results rolled in.
Portlanders for Safe and Healthy Schools raised close to $500,000 for its campaign, according to an incomplete tally with the Oregon Secretary of State's office Tuesday. Of that, much came from industries that stood to benefit from the bond, including builders, architects and designers.
Relatively few people voted in the election. As of Tuesday evening, voter turnout hovered around 25 percent — far below the level at the same point in the election cycle in November 2016, when 61 percent of voters had returned a ballot.
The last time Portland Public Schools voters approved a school construction bond, in November 2012, the vote came during a presidential election, when turnout is typically at its highest.
A previous effort to pass a PPS school construction bond, in May 2011, failed by a narrow margin, with 51 percent of voters saying no.