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Before it submits language to the board, school district officials are hearing from the public

GRAPHIC PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - BRIC Architecture's Karina Ruiz speaks to attendees at last week's school informational meeting at Newberg High School.

In the final weeks of crafting its proposal, the Newberg School District met with 30 community members on Jan. 30 to map out its plans for the construction bond it hopes to put on the ballot in May. The bond, estimated at around $140 million, is expected to include – among myriad other changes for every school in the district – a complete replacement of Dundee Elementary School, a renovation of the cafeteria at Edwards Elementary School and additional funding for Career and Technical Education programs.

Parents and concerned community members gathered at last week's event at Newberg High School, where they could explore the various layers of the proposed bond and voice their questions and concerns. Karina Ruiz from BRIC Architecture – the firm tasked with planning many of the construction projects – spoke to attendees about the proposal at length as well.

"Everyone went around to check out the posters and ask questions, and they submitted comment cards," NSD communications coordinator Gregg Koskela said. "Then we all got back together in the big group and discussed further questions, which included the costs of various projects, how long they would take, etc."

BRIC is now compiling the feedback received at that meeting and from a Tuesday night meeting with staff and faculty in the district. Bond development committee members met Tuesday night as well to iron out some of the details of the proposal.

Koskela said that in the next few weeks the district will send mailers to voters in the area who do not have a direct connection to the school district. So far, the district has been making its case to parents, teachers and community members who are connected to the schools in some way. They know that likely won't be enough for the bond to pass, so they plan to send out physical mailers in addition to online opportunities for local residents to provide feedback.

So far, what the district has heard from the community about the bond proposal – especially its big ticket items – has been encouraging, Koskela said.

"It has been really positive, which is really encouraging for us," he said. "We are grateful for a long history of support in this community for our schools. It's a bit of a harder sell because it will raise taxes, even though it's significantly less based on where we've been historically."

The district plans to reflect on the feedback received from the public and craft the final language of the bond proposal before the Feb. 25 school board meeting. At that meeting, district officials will present the title and question that will appear on the ballot in May, subject to approval by the school board.

Questions submitted to the district have often centered around cost. Some voters are worried about the increase in taxes, Koskela said, but the district aims to make this bond more affordable than previous ones.

Koskela said the district crunched the numbers and found a way to avoid overlap between the previous bond and the new one, should the new one pass in May. The cost per year for this bond is estimated at $1.99 per $1,000 of assessed value on taxpayers' homes, but that wouldn't be stacked on top of the 77 cents per $1,000 that homeowners are already paying.

In 2020, the cost of the new bond would be $1.22 per $1,000 assessed value, joined with the old bond (77 cents in its final year) to add up to the $1.99 per $1,000 assessed value figure that taxpayers would pay for the foreseeable future. Starting in 2021, the $1.99 per $1,000 assessed value would only go toward the new bond.

So what does that mean for the average homeowner paying taxes on this bond? According to real estate website Zillow, the average home value in Newberg is $390,489. Assessed value of a home is roughly 60 percent of its real market value, so for Newberg residents that equates to an average assessed value of $234,293.40.

At a rate of $1.99 per $1,000 of assessed value, Newberg homeowners would pay an average of $466 per year on this bond at the current value of the average home. Koskela said they're expecting the bond to be paid off in roughly 23 years, and that this cost is cheaper than what taxpayers have doled out on previous construction bonds.

Former school board chairman Bob Woodruff spoke at Thursday's meeting about residents' biggest concern: the cost of the bond and why he and the district believe it is a worthy investment.

"If we were good politicians, we would have gone out for a bond a couple of years ago," Woodruff said. "We could have kept everyone's taxes flat and our work would have been a lot easier. However, because of the budget issues in the district at the time, we did not have the capacity to put together a valuable bond package. We would have just been chasing dollars, rather than putting together a quality group of projects. We wanted to be good stewards of your tax dollars, rather than good politicians."

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