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School district expected to use polling results to help develop multi-million dollar bond measure for May or November ballot

Canby School District recently hired Jeremy Wright Public Affairs to poll a sample group of 400 community residents about a potential multi-million dollar bond that would fund various projects at existing facilities around the district. The results provide a picture of projects the district might consider and what the voters are willing to pay for (hint: a sports complex is probably out).

If a bond measure were to pass in either May or November, it is not expected to raise taxes for homeowners since it replaces the expiring 2004 bond to build Baker Prairie Middle School. Plus, the school district has won a $4.7 million matching grant, free for taxpayers, should a May bond pass (these monies are not guaranteed for a November bond).

Still, polling results show that voters are reticent to say yes to big money.

Three potential bond figures presented to likely May/November voters were $97 million, $75 million and $48 million. Forty-six percent of those polled said yes to the $97 million and 42 percent said no. Fifty-six percent said yes to $75 million and 35 percent said no. Sixty percent said yes to the $48 million and 25 percent said no.

"Ninety-seven million is a non-starter," Wright, of the firm, said to board members during his presentation at the October board meeting. "...Even though it doesn't raise tax rates, it just doesn't get you there. You would not want to start there. Your options here are 48 or 75. That's your range. As you go through your bond development, that's your top and that's your bottom."

The $97 million hypothetical package included safety improvements, needed repairs, replacement of a section of the high school to modernize classrooms and lab spaces, and more, plus notably, repurposing Ackerman Middle School to offer specialized learning opportunities to district students.

The $75 million hypothetical package included everything above except repurposing Ackerman.

The $48 million hypothetical package included everything above except repurposing Ackerman and replacing a section of the high school.

PMG FILE PHOTO: KRISTEN WOHLERS - Ackerman School.

The poll revealed that the community of Canby prioritizes safety.

"Your community cares deeply about safety and security of their students and their staff," Wright said in October. "That's what they want to pay for."

What don't they want to pay for?

A sports complex, apparently.

Of all the potential bond aspects, the potential for a sports complex at Ackerman received the least favorable response from those polled. And when people were provided more information about the complex, support decreased even further.

Receiving strong favor were the following potential bond aspects, all having to do with safety.

-Add cameras and upgrade security.

-Retrofit gym spaces to serve as emergency shelters after a natural disaster like a large earthquake

-Purchase better internal communications for each building to keep students and staff safe during emergencies

-Improve students and staff safety in middle and elementary schools by creating single points of entry

-Update and expand science labs to ensure class sizes meet safety standards while allowing students to complete increased lab sciences required to graduate and ensure access to modern technology

Wright said that in addition to safety, Canby voters value up-to-date technology and staying competitive with neighboring districts.

Overall, while the biggest figure and certain big-dollar items are likely off the table, the poll showed some major positives when it comes to the potential for passing a bond.

For example, right off the bat, 55 percent of likely May voters and 56 percent of likely November voters said they'd vote yes on a school district bond measure. According to Wright, that's a pretty good starting point.

Furthermore, the community apparently trusts the district to provide a quality education, as 77 percent of the sample group said the quality of education in Canby is good or excellent.

"I will tell you...this is a great number," Wright said. "We do polling in dozens of districts and...I would say that your rating of what people think of the quality of education your district provides is excellent."

The district board of directors was expected to decide on Thursday, Nov. 7 whether or not to pursue a May bond. They must decide before Nov. 15, or risk losing the $4.7 million in matching funds.

But instead of deciding Thursday, the board balked at the public relations firm's suggestion that a May bond might call for a streamlined approach to the planning process.

Board members agreed they want to stick with a thorough process that involves several bond-steering-committee meetings and ample opportunities for community engagement. So they opted to ask the firm if the thorough approach was still possible for a May bond-ask and then convene for a special meeting the following week to decide, just in time for that Nov. 15 deadline.


Kristen Wohlers
Reporter
503-263-7512
email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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