A poll of 400 likely voters found not quite enough support to pass a $235 million bond to replace nearly all schools in the district, the school board learned Thursday. The pollster advised hiring a consultant to run an education campaign.
School board officials were encouraged, though, that the numbers showed significant improvement over polling in 2008.
Pollster Ben Patinkin said other school districts, including Lake Oswego and Portland, were also able to turn around insufficient poll results and eventually, after an education campaign, have successful bond elections.
The board agreed by consensus to hire a consultant, though no timeframe was set.
Patinkin advised going on the November 2018 ballot at the soonest, saying the firmest opponents to the ballot were voters who consistently participate in every election, even spring primaries, while the most support for the bond was found among those voters who vote less often, tend to only vote in big fall elections.
Patinkin said the district needed to have an ongoing education campaign that repeatedly stressed the same set of key facts over and over. That includes 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.
And, because of the way the bond is structured, the district would not have to ask for money again for the next 50 years.
The poll found that when people were told what the bond would do to help schools and was a 50-year timeframe, 48 percent said they would vote yes, while 40 percent would vote no. Another 13 percent didn’t know, and Patinkin cautioned that undecideds generally end up voting no.
The yes/no breakdown was worse when people had less information, and were only told the language that might be included on a ballot. That tally was 44 percent yes, 42 percent no, 14 percent undecided.
That highlighted the need for an education campaign, he said.
Patinkin said the district’s idea to ask for a 50-year “bond authority” which gives them the ability to issue bonds for each school over time, without going to voters each time, was a unique method he’d not seen before. A few other districts have successfully passed bond authorities.
Board Chair Carol Roderick was encouraged by the survey results. “It’s improved a lot since they did the last poll in 2008, which they didn’t listen to and should have.”
That poll found only 35 percent support for the bond, and the ballot was defeated with precisely a 35 percent yes vote.
She said the bond will be structured to allow the cost to taxpayers to be no more than $2.99 per $1,000 assessed property valuation.
While the school district has legal capacity to ask for nearly $8 per $1,000, Roderick stressed, “no, it is not going to be $8 per $1,000. That is never going to happen. It’s going to be $2.99 or less.”
She said if future boards wanted to change that taxation rate, it would have to go back before voters.
Patinkin said the district needed to get more peopled in the “strong yes” column. Just 20 percent were strong yeses on the second question with fuller information about what the bond would do. He said that should be at 40 percent. The strong no should be no more than 25 percent, and it was at 23 percent.
Patinkin said for a bond to win, overall support for it should be in the mid-50s or higher.
The 50-year bond authority would replace every school in the district except the middle school. The tax rate of no more than $2.99 per $1,000 of property tax valuation would not begin until after bonds for the middle school are paid off in 2020.
Those bonds are at $1.60 per $1,000 now. That means it would be a net increase of $1.30 per $1,000 for properties within the former School District 12, but a net increase of $2.99 for properties in former School District 9. The two districts merged into District 21 in 2004.
Patinkin said support is highest among women, parents of district students, those under 50, and the college educated.
He noted, “while younger voters are with us, we need more of them. Older voters are decidedly opposed.”
Poll results also showed more than half of the respondents thought school facilities were in poor to fair condition.
Just 30 percent think they’re good or excellent.
The poll also found most respondents feel the district is doing a good job of educating students, with 59 percent saying it is good to excellent.
The survey also found less support for the idea of going out for a bond to build the high school first, and then going for a second bond in five years to upgrade elementary schools.
Roderick said strong schools are what drives economic development, and she hopes more people become involved in the effort to replace school facilities.