ENDORSEMENT: Voters should back Beaverton School District bond
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It doesn't seem like it's been that long, but in truth, it's been eight years since Beaverton School District voters approved a $680 million bond that added a sixth neighborhood high school in the district, a new middle school and a new elementary school, and rebuilt some older school buildings.
This spring, the school board is asking voters to approve a new $723 million bond that will pick up where the 2014 package left off.
The biggest priority item in this year's bond measure is the total reconstruction of 105-year-old Beaverton High School — the oldest high school building in Washington County. Raleigh Hills K-8 School, soon to be transitioned into an elementary school, is also on the docket for a rebuild.
Whereas the 2014 bond sought to add schools, increasing the district's capacity to handle growth in South Cooper Mountain and North Bethany, this year's bond is focused on rebuilding and modernizing existing facilities. It includes money to seismically retrofit several district schools that aren't rated to withstand the inevitable Cascadia subduction zone earthquake.
While the bond would not pay for the construction of new campuses, it would expand the capacity of some existing schools. That means building additional classrooms for Stoller Middle School, Oak Hills Elementary School and even relatively new Sato Elementary School, which just opened in 2017 after being built with 2014 bond dollars. (The Bethany area, which those three schools serve, saw its population increase by more than half last decade; it would now be Washington County's fourth-largest city if it were to incorporate.)
A significant part of the bond — $120 million — would go toward deferred maintenance.
A frequent bugbear of K-12 school districts, the maintenance backlog only becomes more expensive to address over time, and the longer that maintenance is deferred, the likelier it becomes that something will break — a roof will leak, a pipe will burst, a circuit will short out, and so on — and require a more expensive, urgent fix.
District officials say every school in the district would benefit from the bond if voters approve it — albeit some more than others.
Infamously, the Beaverton School District under-budgeted for school construction associated with the 2014 bond.
While voters approved a $680 million measure district officials said at the time would pay for the construction of Mountainside High School, Tumwater Middle School, Sato Elementary and other new buildings, among other capital projects, the school board acknowledged in 2016 that the project list would cost closer to $760 million to complete. Much of the cost overrun was due to Mountainside.
District officials say they've learned from their mistakes. They have a bond accountability team that works directly with staff, and they've adjusted construction timetables in a way they told us will reduce costs.
And while the underbudgeting for school construction several years ago did grab headlines, the school district dealt with it in the best way possible: It used bond premiums and other revenues to patch the difference between the $680 million bond and the $760 million budget. That meant all of the projects that voters said they wanted ended up being built, and taxpayers didn't have to pay any more than they agreed to pay in 2014.
It's true this isn't the sexiest bond measure around. There will be no community naming contests for new schools this time (although there also won't be any major redistricting). Capacity increases will be relatively modest. But buildings get old, equipment and technology wear out, and community needs change over time. This bond would address all of that.
Taxpayers in the Beaverton School District will see their property taxes go up by 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed value with the passage of this bond measure. While that may seem steep at a time when families are grappling with inflation, ultimately, if the measure fails, that doesn't mean the needs will go away — it will just cost more to pay for them later, and in the meantime, the school district will decline due to outmoded facilities and rising maintenance costs.
We recommend "yes" on Measure 34-313 to maintain and modernize Beaverton schools.
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