Forest Grove School District seeks community feedback on facility upgrades
The Forest Grove School District is looking for community help in prioritizing facility upgrade planning.
The district will be hosting virtual community meetings from 6 to 8 p.m. on both Wednesday, May 12, and Tuesday, May 18, to discuss its long-range facility plan and gain feedback from its constituents regarding their wants and needs.
The initial plan was put together in 2016 and 2017, but with rapidly changing times — especially over the past year — district officials say it's important to re-assess and re-evaluate it now.
"I don't think the plan has changed significantly," Superintendent Dave Parker said. "But there are some changes, so we're bringing them to the community to make sure we get some feedback on what those changes might be."
Parker referenced districts throughout the state that have historically addressed things similarly — including Hillsboro, which passed a $407 million bond in 2017 designed to prioritize safety and security, update and repair aging school buildings, address overcrowding while planning for future growth, and provide a modern education for students.
Forest Grove has traditionally done its part keeping up with needed improvements, putting the district in a reasonably good place, Parker argued. But he wants to be proactive in heading off problems — such as deferred maintenance costs that pile up over time.
"I would say the taxpayers of this district have been very generous in maintaining and providing schools that work for kids, so I would say that we're not behind," Parker said. "Having said that, I would also tell you that we have to continue to invest in our schools, or else we're going to end up with a bigger bill down the road.
"There are other school districts in the state that have ended up with really big tax bills because they have to replace multiple schools, multiple maintenance pieces. We want to take this one step at a time, which will result in the most efficient use of the taxpayer's money."
The long-range facilities plan lives up to its billing. It looks at a 100-year period, trying to game out when and how school facilities will need to be repaired, rebuilt, expanded and added. That means it must take into account student enrollment, building age, seismic issues, educational trends, population growth and more.
It also has to be realistic about the district's resources — the money it has now, and the money it can expect to have available in the future.
"We have to be smart with taxpayers' money," Parker added. "That's what this plan gives us: a long-range viewpoint of how we can best manage the resources and money of the taxpayers."
Of course, a school district doesn't just have one big pot of money — or savings account — from which it can pay for anything and everything.
Schools receive much of their funding from the state government. Smaller amounts come from the federal government. Some of that money goes into what is called the general fund, which has few restrictions on how it can be spent. Other allocations, however, can only be spent on specific budget areas or projects.
When voters approve a bond measure, as they did in Hillsboro four years ago, they also approve a list of projects that measure will be used to pay for. That constrains the school district in how it can spend the money. For example, if the school district tells voters that if they approve a tax increase to pay for a new middle school, the district can't just turn around and spend those new tax dollars on raises for teachers or a private jet for the superintendent.
Parker believes the Forest Grove School District will soon put a bond measure in front of voters — but likely not by this November.
"The timing is definitely something the board will need to have a conversation about," he said.
For now, the long-range planning process continues. The school district will gather input from constituents this month. From there, Parker and other district leaders and the board will sit down and begin talks regarding the next steps, which could mean seeking voter approval for a capital bond measure.
For more information on the long-range facilities plan and the upcoming virtual community meetings, including how to register for them, visit www.fgsdk12.org/apps/news/article/1432568 or visit the Forest Grove School District website directly at fgsdk12.org.
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