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School Board Chair Doug Smith urges voters to support the school district bond measure

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Doug SmithAs voters we will be asked this election to approve a bond for school repairs and remodels. I urge you to vote YES on this request. Now is the proper time! As a member of your school board, I and the other board members have worked hard to ensure that our schools are fiscally responsible, and that funding is in place to maintain and improve Crook County school buildings on a regular basis. This request to voters is for major items that just cannot be fit into the day-to-day operational budget. These include renovations to heating, cooling, filtration and electrical infrastructure in buildings that were built years before we had air conditioning and ventilation systems. The boilers in the Steins Pillar and Powell Butte schools are nearly 100 years old. Roofs on CCMS, Steins Pillar and Crooked River Elementary are 50 years old. They leak. And repairs seem to last only until the next time it rains or snows and then they leak somewhere else. They need to be replaced! Our community is growing, and the capacity added from the 2012 bond has been filled. This bond will add classrooms throughout the district to create capacity for another 500 students. It will include 14 classrooms planned at the middle school, four classrooms at Grizzly Mountain Homelink, four additional classrooms at Powell Butte and 11 classrooms at Steins Pillar Elementary, as well as a new CTE shop and expanded fitness area at CCHS. Growth in the area has created other issues. The traffic on Highway 126 has created a need to improve the flows in and out of school parking at Powell Butte Charter. I personally feel this is one of the most concerning safety issues our students face. We must find and implement a solution and there is funding in this bond to allow us to work with Crook County and ODOT to create positive change. The school district has other issues that will be addressed by the bond. The cement floor in the gym in Brothers School will get a sports floor covering to help prevent concussions in the event of falls. We are looking at ways to make spring and fall sports more accessible to parents by adding lights to our sports fields for evening games. Ward Rhoden Stadium has served the community since 1976. It needs to be refreshed to allow for the growth in sports participation and to have more flexibility for additional uses. New restrooms will be added in the area of the high school soccer field for use by tennis, softball and soccer teams and fans. Southwell Auditorium is a great asset to our community, but the technology in it needs to be replaced. So much has changed and improved since the high school was built in 1996!

Crook County has the highest graduation rate in Central Oregon and the lowest tax rate for school construction!

Crook County schools under the leadership of Dr. Sara Johnson and her team have focused on student engagement. It has resulted in improved academic performance, increased participation and higher graduation rates. But it also has resulted in packed gyms and lack of space for participants. I believe we as a community want to find a way to grow student involvement in extracurriculars even more.

I don't like increased taxes any more than you do. That is why we have worked hard to ensure that Crook County School District taxes for school construction remain the lowest in the Central Oregon region. In 2012, when the bond levy passed, we promised that your tax rate would not exceed $1.03 per thousand of assessed value. It didn't, and the rate paid in this fiscal year is $0.924 per thousand. For comparison, the next lowest tax rate is Sisters School District at $1.28 per thousand. Culver is the highest at $4.44 per thousand. If measure 7-81 is approved, your rate for school construction is projected not to exceed $1.03 per thousand as promised in 2012. So, I am sure you are wondering how is this possible? First, interest rates are lower now than in the past and likely lower than they will be in the future. Second, the school district refinanced the 2012 bond at these lower rates in May 2020 and elected to keep the tax rate at current levels, reducing the debt even faster and setting up future savings. That action reduced the total cost to retire the 2012 bonds by $3.2 million.

The third major factor is that beginning in 2027, the first data centers will start coming onto the tax rolls. The school district has worked with both the City of Prineville and Crook County to arrive at figures that are both conservative and reliable concerning how much and when it will be taxed. We factored this into our bonding calculations. I am proud of our fiscal responsibility and feel that our numbers are based on very solid work. We looked at replacing the boilers and roofs 10 years ago. We decided instead to build a new elementary school, and I am glad we did. That added capacity allowed Crook County schools to remain open during the COVID crisis. But now the boilers and roofs are 10 years older and even more expensive to replace. We must get them done now, or the cost will continue to grow. Interest rates are low, so this is the time to commit to getting this work completed! Crook County School District is in the enviable position of having the lowest tax rate for school construction in Central Oregon. By getting this repair and remodeling done now, we set up the district and voters to be able to address future needs, whatever they may be, and still stay in the lowest tax rate position!

Please join me in voting yes for schools and students. Yes on 7-81.


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