In a mailer sent to voters this week, Portland Public Schools heralds the district's success in delivering on tax levies for teachers and a series of construction bonds.
District officials say they paid a contractor $59,000 for the mailer, entitled "Transforming Our Schools: A report to Portland voters on bond and levy spending." On the back, the flyer uses the tag line "Accountable to Voters."
The timing of the mailer is unusual. It's arriving in mailboxes the last week voters consider School Board candidates in the May 21 election. And while the mailer doesn't endorse any candidates, it provides reassuring messages about the district's bond spending.
What's not mentioned: the more than $200 million gap between what's been promised to voters in the record-setting $790 million bond passed in 2017 and what the district now says it can afford to build.
The contractor, Premier Press, printed and mailed the flyer, which was designed by district staff.
District officials said the mailer was not timed for the school board election, but was an attempt to reach voters before the end of the school year.
"It doesn't have anything to do with the school board election," says Portland Public Schools spokesman Harry Esteve. "This was meant to just let our community and our voters know where the money that they approved both for our local option levy and our bonds have gone. The voters were generous enough to support these and we want to make sure the knew how we were spending the money."
One longtime PPS critic described the mailer as deceptive.
"I thought we were past such dishonest, wasteful PR from our new team," says former state school board member Kim Sordyl.
"'Accountable to Voters'; my foot," Sordyl adds. "PPS has yet to give us an honest message about the severe lowballing of the bond. To spin this as being 'accountable,' is deplorable. Benson, our low income, high performing high school, is again being told PPS won't follow through on its bond promises."
Because of the gap between projected budgets and the amount approved by voters, Benson Polytechnic High School, which was included in the 2017 bond, is not expected to be renovated under this bond. (Lincoln, Madison and Kellogg will be renovated or rebuilt.)
The flyer runs down the number of teachers funded through the levy—790 in 2017-18—and which schools are getting renovations under the 2012 and 2017 bonds.
The district will need to renew the levy, which ends in 2020, and is expected to ask voters to approve another bond in coming years to renovate or rebuild more schools.