More and more students have been showing up each year to enroll in Bend-La Pine Schools, even during the Great Recession and the slow recovery.
In less than a year from March 2012 to February 2013, elementary schools gained about 250 students, middle schools about 70 and high schools about 65. For a longer look, forecasts from Portland State University’s Center for Population Research predict another 3,000 students in the next 10 years.
The numbers provide firm support for the district’s $96 million bond request, which will go to the voters in May. It proposes to build two schools — one elementary and one middle — and to do 138 safety, maintenance and classroom-addition projects in other schools.
Taxpayers’ bills would stay about the same, even with approval of this new bond, because older bonds are being paid off. If it were defeated, tax bills would drop by about 26 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, or about $52 per year on a property with taxable value of $200,000.
The need for a new school is most urgent at the youngest level, where growth is fastest and only about 600 seats are available across the district’s 17 elementary schools. At the current growth rate of 250 students per year, it won’t be long before those schools are overflowing. An added complication is that nearly one-third of the available seats for all ages are in La Pine, while the faster growth is happening in Bend.
The 138 smaller projects were chosen from a list of more than 400, and include fixing leaking roofs and windows; updating heating, ventilation, electrical and plumbing systems; adding fire sprinklers, intercoms and fencing; renovating space for applied arts programs; and improving playgrounds, gyms and fields, among others. With nearly half the district’s schools now at least 30 years old, many of these upgrades are essential.
It’s no doubt possible to quibble with a few of the items on the upgrade list, but the overall need is clear. If voters say no, costs for critical maintenance and portable classrooms would come out of the general fund, likely further reducing the teaching staff. Failure to keep up with growth would be felt for years to come.
Approval won’t increase homeowners’ tax bills, but it will meet a critical need for our children. Voters should say yes.