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D21 to seek $235M bond

The D21 school board voted Thursday to seek a $235 million bond authority in November to build four schools after hearing polling of likely voters found support for it at 53 percent.

After more information and messaging was given to those surveyed, support increased to 61 percent.

The poll of 400 likely voters in June found 53 percent said they would vote yes based on an initial question of whether they would support $235 million in bonds issued over 20 years to increase safety; modernize, repair, and replace schools; update technology and address overcrowding. The bonds would be paid off over 50 years.

But once the bonds were described as urgently needed to replace old and crowded schools, with accountability for spending built in, and improved safety for students and staff, the yes vote jumped to 61 percent. Most of the movement occurred amongst young voters.

The poll carries a 4.9 percent margin of error.

With more information, 12 percent of no’s became yeses. “It’s the same story; it’s an education process. There’s a lot of work to do,” said Randy Anderson, chief financial officer for North Wasco County School District 21.

“There’s a pathway to success with this data. It’s very encouraging,” he said.

When the board approved the vote, Anderson said, “This is a historic thing.”

Board chair Kathy Ursprung said after the meeting, “I think the volunteers that went out and beat the bushes to talk to people had an impact, and I think the community is just ready to do this.”

The polling results were “a wonderful surprise,” she said.

Anderson said the pollster told him the numbers showed “a much better starting place than we have ever experienced.” But they also cautioned the district, saying, “Don’t take your foot off the gas. It’s not a time to relax.”

A report from polling firm Patinkin Research Strategies said that after messaging to voters, the bond was seen as strengthening technology and job training and ensuring access to safe, modern schools.

If the bond passes, a citizen bond oversight committee would be formed to monitor costs of the building projects.

Pollsters said the message of accountability for money spent needs to be conveyed since a perception of wasteful spending drove bond opposition.

Of the 53 percent initial yes vote, 23 percent were strong yeses and 30 percent were not strongly yes. Pollsters said they like to see the strong yes bloc closer to 40 percent.

Of the no’s, 20 percent were strong no’s. Just 15 percent of voters were undecided.

The target audience, Anderson said, is the not-strong yeses and the undecided, although undecided people tend to vote no.

The initial yes vote was nine percentage points higher than in polling done a year ago.

Polling showed the strongest support for the bond from parents who currently have children in D21 schools, with a 59 percent yes vote. Those with former students were at 53 percent.

The most opposition came from those over 70, 41 percent of whom who said they’d vote yes, and people with no children currently or ever in the district. Only 32 percent of them would vote yes.

After the first question, support was only slightly lower in the former District 9 (52 percent) than in the former District 12 (56 percent).

The bond will assess no more than $2.99 per $1,000 of assessed property valuation. That would be $562 a year for a median value Wasco County home, worth $188,400.

But because former District 12 taxpayers, who make up more than two-thirds of D21 taxpayers, are still paying for the bond to build the middle school – it retires in 2020 – their net tax increase will be $1.34 per $1,000 of assessed property valuation.

They are paying $1.65 now for the middle school bond, and with the added $1.34 for a new bond, their total would equal $2.99.

Since D9 taxpayers have not had a middle school bond to pay off, their taxes would go up the full $2.99 per $1,000.

Once voters were told about the tax structure in each former district, it improved the yes vote in the former D12 from 52 percent to 58 percent. It did not change the 51 percent yes vote in the former D9, but it did boost the no vote from 37 percent to 42 percent.

As from a year ago, the bond continues to perform best among Democrats and voters who tend to only vote in major elections.

“There’s a reasonable expectation for a very high voter turnout in November, which generally helps bond elections,” Anderson said.

The poll also found 58 percent of voters would support an $80 million bond to build a new high school, and then have the district go back to voters every five years for additional bonds to build the other schools.

The pollsters said, “This proposal should be given serious consideration given its start point.”

On the idea of a high school only bond, Ursprung said, “I can't speak about my fellow board members' thought processes, but I did briefly consider the alternative.

However, having been through the citizen facilities master planning process and knowing the district's need is much greater than a single school, and considering the broad community support reflected in the poll, I felt it would be irresponsible not to give voters the choice to set the larger plan into place.”


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