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D21 hires PR firm for facilities effort

District 21 has hired Wright Public Affairs, which has managed winning campaigns for school bonds and levies in the Portland Metro area, to guide its facilities bond campaign.

The hiring was announced at the North Wasco County School District 21 meeting last Thursday. The firm will be paid $42,000 for its work from this September through next June.

Another contract will then be signed for work from July through November 2018, when the district anticipates putting a 50-year bond authority on the ballot that would allow the district to rebuild nearly every school in the district over the next number of years.

A bond authority gives the district the ability to issue bonds for each school over time, without going to voters each time.

The intent is to have the bond levy amount be $2.99 or less per $1,000 of assessed property valuation.

The middle school bond, which retires in June 2020, is at $1.70 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, said D21 Chief Financial Officer Randy Anderson.

Once the middle school bond retires, it would mean a net increase of $1.30 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.

Wright Public Affairs will help develop communication messaging as well as campaign planning and coaching, Anderson said. Richard Higgins led the district in facilities planning in late 2017 and in early 2017, and recommended hiring Jeremy Wright of Wright Public Affairs.

Anderson said, ‘I talked to Richard Higgins and his comment was ‘You couldn’t do any better than this guy.’ We’re ready to start rolling.”

The district will also start gathering names for a bond committee, which would have six to eight people on it. “They don’t have to be polished public speakers, they have to be well-known and respected,” Anderson said.

The board agreed in June to hire a consultant to help with the bond campaign. At the time, polling showed not quite enough support for a $235 million bond authority, but board members were encouraged because support was much higher than in 2008, when a bond levy for repairs failed with just a 35 percent yes vote.

Pollster Ben Patinkin said the district 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.

Chenowith Elementary is 64 years old, Colonel Wright Elementary is 93 years old, Dry Hollow Elementary is 57 years old and the high school is 77 years old.

And, because of the way the bond is structured, the district would not have to ask for money again for the next 50 years.

Higgins said other Portland area districts that had not quite enough polling support early on hired Wright and were able to shift enough voters into the positive column to pass bonds.

A poll of attendees at a facilities planning meeting earlier this year showed overwhelming support for replacing the high school first.

School board preference is leaning toward a new school on the west end of town, Anderson said.

Two contenders for a new high school location are the current Wahtonka campus, and the site of the district’s administrative office, which is on a hill south of the Wahtonka Campus.

Once a high school site is picked, a master planning committee, tasked with giving input on the building’s design, would begin to meet.

Anderson anticipated the master planning committee would start meeting in January.

The district is also planning to revisit the possible use of its 100-acre property in Columbia View Heights.

The school board also heard that all district school buildings will be getting safety shades on exterior windows, which will prevent people from looking into classrooms. Colonel Wright and Chenowith elementaries already have the window treatments, and Wahtonka Community School, The Dalles High School and Dry Hollow Elementary will have the shades added by the end of the year.

The cost is $190,000, and is paid for through enterprise zone funds from Google.


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