WW’s November 2017 Election Endorsement

Most Portland voters will see only one item on their Nov. 7 ballot. Vote yes.

Measure 26-196
Portland Community College bond

Voters may be surprised to find ballots in their mailboxes this week. Silver lining: They can make short work of filling them out.

For most Portland voters, the only item on the Nov. 7 ballot is a $185 million Portland Community College bond.

PCC is Oregon's largest educational institution in terms of students served: about 78,000 each year. The students are older and more diverse than Oregon university students. They come to PCC because it's far cheaper to attend than a four-year school, and because they want to learn job skills. (Vigor Industrial set up a welding program, and Intel and Genentech helped establish curricula for technicians.)

A recent economic impact study the college commissioned found that each dollar invested in those students' education will return $12.50 in cumulative benefit over the course of the students' lives. The Portland Business Journal ranked 21 colleges based on graduates' salaries compared to the cost of their education—and PCC ranked first.

Despite the vast number of students they serve, community colleges are the runt of Oregon education. They lack the passionate grassroots support that K-12 parents reliably deploy on lawmakers to fund schools, and they cannot mobilize the well-heeled, politically connected boosters that Oregon's public universities draw upon. Community college students are less able to shoulder the big tuition hikes four-year universities can impose, and the community colleges are less able to attract the out-of-state and overseas students who subsidize the University of Oregon, Oregon State and Portland State.

That means when PCC needs money, it comes to voters.

PCC stretches across four campuses and eight learning centers, reaching deep into North, Southwest and East Portland. These campuses include some structures that are either decrepit, obsolete or inaccessible to people with disabilities.

The college would like to use money from this bond for three priorities: to expand job-training facilities; to upgrade labs and technology used to prepare students for health and science jobs; and to improve the safety and security of its buildings.

On the drawing board are no-frills projects such as razing two buildings on its Workforce Training Center campus in Northeast Portland and building a new day care center at its Rock Creek campus in Washington County to accommodate the large number of students who are also working parents.

It's a mostly painless decision for voters. If the bond passes, their taxes will not increase. That's because this bond would replace a $144 million bond voters approved in 2000. That bond will soon be paid off, so the new bond would merely take its place at the same estimated tax rate.

PCC has shown foresight in spending the previous bond. Its biggest success was the decision to purchase land that now holds the college's Southeast campus, located on 82nd Avenue north of Division Street. When it was officially dedicated in 2014, Southeast became PCC's fourth campus and its first new one in 40 years—purchased at a fraction of what the land would cost today.

Interest rates are lower now than they were in 2000, and the number of taxpayers have increased, so the college would be able to borrow more money for the same average tax payment. The cost per household: 40 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

In 2016, the average assessed value of a home in Multnomah County was $210,000. That means the average homeowner would pay $84 a year for the life of the bond. That's a good deal. Vote yes.

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