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A community forum on the proposed November bond favors upgrade of the school, which has an historically African American student body.

COURTESY PHOTO: STEVE MORGAN FOR WIKIMEDIA COMMONS - A rebuild of Jefferson High School as part of a Portland Public Schools facilities bond was favored by people attending a public forum.

Rebuilding Jefferson High School came out as a top priority Thursday evening in a public forum on a bond Portland Public Schools plans for the November ballot.

"I would like to see Jefferson prioritized," said participant Liz Fouther-Branch, "I don't think putting it off any longer is going to be beneficial."

Earlier, the board and district released three bond proposals, one at $584 million, another for $699 million and a third for $1 billion. A $320 million rebuild of Jefferson is included in the $1 billion proposed bond.

District administrators stress that property tax rates would not increase if voters approve a facilities bond.

"We're not asking people to pay more taxes," said Courtney Westling, director of government relations at PPS, "especially with the recession we're heading into, this is a big concern for people."

Parent Gabrielle Mercedes Bolivar also advocated for rebuilding Jefferson, and said that "it seems like the more affluent schools keep getting on the bonds."

Another parent, Sandy Rugnetti, with a child headed for Wilson High School, said "I don't see how we can't include Jefferson and this is from someone not associated with Jefferson."

The proposals are not set in stone and, as Chief Operations Officer Dan Jung said, "a future bond could be any one of these (proposals), something in between or something totally different."

But, he said "I think we're hearing pretty strongly that Jefferson should be included in the bond."

The district is in the middle of a decades-long plan to modernize its school buildings. Voters passed bonds in 2012 and 2017 and Faubion K-8 School, Franklin, Roosevelt and Grant high schools were modernized.

Madison High School is under construction. Construction will start next year on the Benson Polytechnic High School campus. A rebuild of Lincoln High School is set to be completed in 2023.

Cleveland, Jefferson and Wilson high schools have not yet been part of a bond.

High schools were targeted as top district priority, because they house the most students.

The district held the virtual community forum Thursday evening, June 25, and asked the public to give their opinions on what a possible November 2020 bond should include.

After a general introduction, participants could visit four break-out sessions where various bond topics were open for discussion.

The bond proposals include investments in three main categories.

The first is for classroom tools such as technology and curriculum materials, and also would include improvements in special education classrooms.

"We are decades behind" in updating curriculum and technology, and fixing that is "more than our general fund could afford," said PPS board chair Amy Kohnstamm.

The second bond category is for repairs and upgrades for things like roofs, heating and cooling, improved accessibility for people with disabilities and earthquake safety improvements.

The third category for investment is the updating and rebuilding of schools.

The support for making Jefferson a top priority has been gaining steam. In a recent school board meeting, board members expressed support for diving into a major overhaul of the historically Black Jefferson High with the November 2020 bond.

The board and district are looking for the public's input and the public has already submitted more than 1,000 surveys. The survey is available on the district's home page. The public can weigh in until July 3.

The school board will consider the community input at a meeting in early July.

If the district decides to put a bond in front of voters in November 2020, it must file the paperwork by Aug. 14.


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