The D21 school board will recruit members for a bond oversight committee, a group that would, upon passage of a planned $235 million bond in November to replace most of the district’s schools, oversee expenditure of the funds.
North Wasco County School District 21 is also working on establishing a 15-20 member citizen’s committee to help design a new high school, since that was the public’s choice to be replaced first.
The first meeting for that group is set for March 8 at 6 p.m. at the Fairfield Inn. Anyone from the public is invited to attend.
Citizen meetings last year showed broad support for locating the new high school at the Wahtonka campus. The school board has preliminarily studied the idea of having part of the campus where the current administration building is, with the athletic fields where Wahtonka is now. Further geological testing is needed to see if the site can support a high school building.
The district is proposing an unusual funding mechanism called a bond authority, that would allow it to levy, over time, enough money to replace or upgrade all the schools in the district.
That way, it would not have to go back to voters each time it replaces a school.
The district is proposing to seek an estimated $235 million in bonds over 50 years. The district pledges to keep the bond rate at $2.99 per $1,000 of assessed property value for the duration of the bond authority.
It would replace the high school and three elementaries, building one new building every five years over the next 20 years. It would also build a new early learning center, renovate the middle school and either renovate or replace Mosier School.
The bond oversight committee would have seven members who are respected citizens, said Chair Kathy Ursprung at the board’s Feb. 22 meeting. She said it would be an advisory committee of independent thinkers that reports to the board.
Board member Ernie Blatz said he wanted the bond committee in place before the bond vote so the committee could help promote the bond to citizens.
“I’d like to get this moving,” Blatz said, as a way to show the community the district was “serious” about the bond.
District Chief Financial Officer Randy Anderson said the committee would act as internal auditors, reviewing the bills from building construction. “It will raise the comfort level of the voters.”
The board reached consensus to start seeking members for the oversight committee.
Anderson said he is working with the bond attorney on the wording of the bond question for the ballot. He expected to have the draft language for the bond question shortly.
Blatz said the district planned to do several surveys regarding the bond and would not put it on the ballot if it appeared there wasn’t enough public support for it.
Ursprung stressed that the process is community-driven, with considerable community input.
The district last year had a series of community meetings to learn what the community wanted to see in terms of its facilities.
The committee — which was open ended and anyone in the community was allowed to participate — said it wanted safe, secure, maintainable, modern buildings that were also a community resource and a source of community pride.
Last summer, the district hired Portland consulting firm Wright Public Affairs to help guide the district through the bond process.
The firm will help develop communication messaging as well as campaign planning and coaching.
The middle school bond, which retires in June 2020, is at $1.65 right now; and even if the bond issue begins before it is retired, the total amount of the levy will still remain at $2.99 or less, Anderson said earlier.
Once the middle school bond retires, it would mean a net increase of $1.34 per $1,000 for properties within the former School District 12, and a net increase of $2.99 for properties in former School District 9.
The two districts merged into District 21 in 2004.
The district has established a web page for the facilities drive. It can be found at northwascobond.org.
School board members and district administrators have talked to approximately six groups so far about the bond, and plan to talk to as many groups are interested.
Upcoming plans include speaking to The Dalles City Council and the Wasco County Commission.
Ursprung said anyone who would like to hear a presentation on facilities can call her at 541-370-5191.
A pollster last summer told the district earlier it needed to have an ongoing education campaign that repeatedly stressed the same set of key facts over and over.
Key facts include that the district’s buildings are old, expensive to maintain, crowded, unsuited to modern education, and new buildings would enhance security and fire safety standards.
Five of the district’s six schools in The Dalles are in poor condition. The exception is the middle school.
The high school was built in 1940, Col. Wright Elementary was built in 1924, Chenowith in 1961, Dry Hollow Elementary in 1960, Wahtonka Community School in 1965, Mosier Community School in 1920, and the district administration building was built in 1953.
The middle school was built in 2003.