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Community committee wants to build trust between voters and district before floating another bond

OUTLOOK PHOTO:TERESA CARSON - Corbett Middle School is considered at risk of collapse in the event of an earthquake. The Corbett School Board decided against asking voters for money in November to improve the district's school buildings, but may try in 2019.

For months, the board had discussed a possible bond for the November 2018 ballot. But after a community group presented a report to the board on Wednesday, June 20, discussing the lack of community trust and support in the district, the board decided to shelve the bond for this year.

The community group recommended against another attempt to pass a bond in the upcoming November election, but pushed the bond off to November 2019 to allow more time to listen to and work with voters. They recommended hiring an independent, outside consultant to assess and report on the district's finances.

"I'm not happy about losing another year," said David Gorman, a Corbett School Board member, who conceded that a delay to try to build more trust with the community was a good idea.

Michelle Vo, chairwoman of the Corbett board, said "failing in November will be even more of a setback."

Several members of the board expressed concern over whether the community would accept the findings of an independent consultant that would have to be paid for by the district and work with the district on fact finding.

A November 2018 bond would have been the fifth time in six years the district tried to pass a facilities bond.

Administrators and the school board have been heartened by the fact that each bond attempt lost by a smaller number of votes. The 2013 bond lost by 415 votes, the 2014 by 174 votes, 2015 by 157 and the $11.9 million bond on the May 2016 ballot by 125 votes.

Funds from a successful bond could be used to build a new middle school. The district could build a new high school and then middle school students would be shifted to the existing high school building. Another possibility is to repair the existing middle school, which many consider cost prohibitive.

In past bond attempts, resistance came from some voters who disagree with the district's policy of encouraging students from out of the district to attend Corbett schools. More than 45 percent of the student body comes from outside the district.

There is also controversy about whether to replace the historic middle school building or try to repair it.

Some people also report a general distrust of the district administrators and school board.

In November 2017 the community group formed to try to figure out how to address community mistrust and resistance and pass a bond.

In a June letter to the Corbett School Board, read at the June 20 meeting, the group reported "a widely held and deeply felt distrust of the intentions of the district and no uniform community vision for our schools."

The community group's letter concluded "there is still work to be done within the community before it will be ready to pass a bond. We must, instead, address the distrust issue and then work to help the community come to a consensus."

The Corbett Middle School building is considered dangerous. A 2012 structural report by Associated Consultants Inc. said, "In the event of an anticipated earthquake, this building does not have adequate strength and load paths to resist forces. The masonry walls may fail and there is a chance that the building will collapse."

In addition to the earthquake dangers, the middle school contains lead and asbestos and does not comply with laws requiring accessibility for those with disabilities.

The school board asked the community committee members at the June 20 board meeting to bring the board three candidates to consider as independent consultants.

The next school board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 18, at the school's multipurpose room, 35800 E. Historic Columbia River Highway.

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