November 5th, 2010 5:33 pm | by BETH SLOVIC News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Politics, Schools

Poll Suggests Portland Schools Will Ask for Bond in Neighborhood of $500 Million

Grant High School Portland, Oregon

A new poll paid for by Portland Public Schools shows a majority of Portland voters likely would support a $500 million construction bond to renovate and rebuild the district's aging campuses. Translation? On Monday, Superintendent Carole Smith is likely to announce plans to ask voters in the school district to OK a hefty tax increase when she goes before the Portland School Board to present her plan for upgrading the district's facilities.

The results from the September 2010 poll by Davis, Hibbitts and Midghall say 62 percent of surveyed voters would approve a $500 million construction bond--while only 30 percent would vote against it. Even after respondents were told how much the proposed bond would cost an average homeowner, 60 percent of voters said they would support a measure that translated to $350 a year per household. However, a higher percentage of respondents—36 percent—said they would vote no once they learned the average cost to a homeowner.

PPS officials likely took heart from election results this week that showed voters in Multnomah County approving money measures, albeit of much smaller sizes. Portland is by far the largest piece of the county electorate.

Multnomah County voters favored a measure to buy new buses for TriMet (although the request failed overall among voters in TriMet's larger region) and approved a five-year levy for the Oregon Historical Society. Portland voters also narrowly approved a $72.4 million measure to support the Portland Fire & Rescue Bureau.

The school district faces another consideration. Its 2006 local-option levy expires in 2012. In order to continue that funding stream for teachers' salaries and educational programs, PPS would have to go to voters to renew that measure (which costs average homeowners about $220 a year) no later than May 2012. Nonetheless, 66 percent of surveyed voters in the September poll said they would support a new local-option levy in the next year or so as well.

The poll, which cost the district $21,000, did not ask voters if they would support the possible school construction bond over other possible tax-increase measures. Portland Parks & Recreation and the Portland Housing Bureau also have deliberated asking voters to support tax hikes. Additionally, Mayor Sam Adams has talked recently about a possible arts levy.

The school district's ask is not as big as it could have been. A three-year old study suggests PPS needs in the range of $900 million to $1.4 billion to fully renovate its buildings.
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