District crafting proposal for school bond
In the spring of 2018, the Newberg School District put together a long range facilities group – comprised of its staff, community members and a local construction company – and hashed out its hopes for the next 10 years of facilities improvement at schools in Newberg and Dundee. That plan was finalized in January and is the foundation of a new school bond the district is developing for voter approval next spring.
A boost in future school funding makes it easier for the district to operate, but it needs to turn to voters in order to improve its facilities.
"The way that school funding works in Oregon, we do not receive any funding from the state for our facilities," NSD communications coordinator Gregg Koskela said. "The only funding we get is for operating funds, so any school district around the state needs to use a school bond on a ballot to fund infrastructure improvements."
The district hired Portland-based BRIC Architecture to guide them through the pre-bond planning process. Through BRIC's advice and its own evaluation of each individual school, Koskela said the district formulated a list of its most pressing infrastructure needs.
Among the changes proposed are replacing the Edwards Elementary cafeteria, an additional handful of classrooms at Edwards to alleviate overcrowding, refurbished Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs at Newberg High School and a new building for Dundee Elementary School.
Those are among the more big-ticket items on the district's wish list, but it wants to hear from the community on additional changes that it believes should make it into the bond.
"There's always more in a plan than can be done in one particular bond," Koskela said. "One of the priorities we have as a bond development committee is gathering input from the community. We'll be doing polling sessions and provide opportunities for community members to give their opinions on what we need."
A community input session is on tap for 6 p.m. Oct. 17 in the Edwards Elementary School library. At the session, the district encourages community members to provide their thoughts on how an upcoming boost in school funding should be used as well as how it should proceed with the proposed bond. These are two separate issues, but both are priorities for the district that it wants to gather public opinion on.
A cornerstone of the upcoming school bond is the proposed replacement of Dundee Elementary School, which Koskela said is one of the older buildings in the district that BRIC advised to replace rather than refurbish. In the early stages of negotiation with the city of Dundee, the school district is looking to move the school to another one of its properties in the area that is further away from Highway 99W, but is now dedicated to a local park.
There has been talk with the city of a land swap to accommodate the new elementary school, Koskela said, but none of that can take place until the school bond is approved – and changes won't come for a few years yet.
"We plan bonds in terms of decade-long cycles," Koskela said. "We ask ourselves what needs to happen in the next 10 years and we explore ways to get those done through the bond. We don't have any more narrow timelines than that at this point – we need the community's input first."
BRIC will create conceptual visualizations of some of the changes proposed to Newberg schools, whether they be refurbishments or replacements. Those should be made available soon at community input sessions, Koskela said, and there will be plenty of opportunities between now and the bond's finalization for locals to voice their priorities and concerns.
Cost-wise, Koskela said the district hopes to fix the assessed tax rate from the bond at a rate lower than the average over the past 15 years. The bond, he said, is likely to be in the $100 million to $130 million range when it's all said and done.
"The first number we've been talking about is about $130 million," district director of finance Nikki Fowler said. "We're looking at that in relation to keeping the dollar amount per thousand pretty consistent to what it was. Since interest rates have improved, we could potentially go for more total on the bond, but still be under that previous rate.
"The year we're currently in, we have the old one drop off, so this year people will see a major savings. That will be a reduction in their taxes."
Fowler said there is a bond adopted in 2005 that will reach its conclusion in June 2021. With the newly proposed bond potentially kicking in by fall 2020, there is expected to be a brief overlap.
In order to make the case to voters that the new bond will be worth the investment, Fowler said the district is targeting a tax rate of $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed value on taxpayers' homes, which she said is around or below the rate that homeowners have been paying on previous bonds.
The real market value of the average home in Newberg is approximately $362,400, according to real estate website Zillow. Assessed value for tax purposes is typically around 60 percent of the real market value, so the median assessed value is $217,440. Take the formula for the bond payment of $2.50 for every $1,000 of assessed value and the average Newberg resident will pay roughly $540 per year in the form of property taxes.
Asking taxpayers to contribute to their local school district is always a big ask, but Koskela said the district hopes to earn the voters' trust and yield a positive result at the ballot box in May.
"We want to let the community know that we are working hard to keep the district on firm financial footing," Koskela said. "The best timing to do this bond would have been a year ago, but we realized that we had some work to do to get our budget in order and prove our trustworthiness to our community. We've done that and we've gotten to a place of financial health where we hope the community will trust us with this bond to improve our schools."
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