Better to pay for schools now than later
In many ways, the weakness in the capital bond request by the West Linn-Wilsonville School District is a matter of timing.
For one, it's only been five years since the district last asked the taxpayers for money to build/improve schools. For another, while some schools are overcrowded and others nearly so, a sizable handful are significantly under capacity.
And then there's the amount. More than $200 million — and while one current bond will be retired by 2020, the district still owes another nearly $200 million from past bonds. Yikes.
Yet, unless parents are willing to let the district rejigger attendance boundaries to artfully redistribute students so all schools are under capacity (and we're guessing that's never happening, based on what occurred during the last school boundary discussion), schools will have to be built with the future in mind, to alleviate crowding in some schools and allow for growth in others.
In addition, much of the bond will be used for badly needed safety improvements in many of the schools, a step the district can't afford to delay. Not to mention, it would add more parking to the constrained West Linn High School.
But it does seem like the new construction — remodeling Athey Creek Middle School's current building into a small high school and building a new school to replace it — is what concerns people the most.
Here's the situation: West Linn High School has too many students, nearly the same number that Wilsonville High School has additional room for. And the roughly 100 students attending Arts and Technology High School are going to need a new space soon, when their leased building is no longer available.
The district envisions a career-focused high school in the former Athey building, one that could house both Art Tech's unique programming and a slew of other vocational classes for workforce-bound students — a move businesses seems to agree is wise, given the qualified labor shortage.
So it seems that unless district residents are OK with slicing off a section of the West Linn High population and all of Art Tech and depositing it in Wilsonville High, there's no question we will need a new high school in a few years (funding, designing and building would take at least that long).
To top that off will be the new students likely to join the district from the growing Frog Pond area of Wilsonville, which is expected to have as many as 2,000 homes in the next 20 years. And the Stafford area, which is expected to start growing when Frog Pond stops.
Could the district do something else to alleviate high school crowding, something more creative? Sure. Maybe it could buy and remodel a warehouse in Wilsonville and ship the extra West Linn kids and the Art Tech kids there. But is that something the community wants?
Probably not. Parents and kids are used to having things as they like them in this district, not making do, and enjoy living in one of the top-rated districts in Oregon.
In addition to safety and technology improvements, the district hopes to create parity between the two high schools by building a new performing arts center at Wilsonville High (currently it only seats 200, while the WLHS auditorium has room for 600), and a new grandstand for West Linn (Wilsonville's stadium has room for considerably more spectators).
Bond naysayers insist the district doesn't need all these extras (parking lot, stadium, auditorium, more high school space) right now and points to places where they feel the district hasn't been fiscally responsible.
But we've done the homework and don't agree with most of their assertions. And it's troubling to see that John McCabe, one of the most vocal anti-bond voices, used the name of "Coalition for Excellent Schools" (a PAC formed to support school bonds in the past, one that McCabe was a part of) to sign his anti-bond entry in the Clackamas County Voters Pamphlet. That seems disingenuous at best.
While the district could scale back its request for capital funds and wait on a new school, we still feel the timing is fair if taxpayers want to be ready for the future and pay today's construction fees, not tomorrow's. Vote yes on Measure 3-554.
In addition to Measure 3-554, taxpayers will see Measure 3-555 on their ballots. This measure will continue the current operational levy used by the district to bolster funding for teaching positions. We have no issues with this $1.50 per $1,000 measure and advise readers to vote yes.
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