Phone survey showed healthy support

By HERB SWETT
For the Keizertimes

No decision on a proposed $766 million general obligation bond measure was reached Tuesday, May 30, at a special meeting of the Salem-Keizer School Board.

Of greatest concern to board members is the timing of an election, whether to have it on the November ballot or the May 2018 ballot. Another concern is the reaction of voters to such a measure soon after approval of a bond for new Salem police facilities.

The proposed bond measure would add space at 22 elementary schools, 10 middle schools, and six high schools. It would build a new Auburn Elementary School, improve science laboratories at the middle and high schools, improve vocational and technical programs at high schools, upgrade technology, make seismic improvements, and make safety and security improvements districtwide.

District staffers do not consider the present Auburn property large enough for current or expected future student enrollment.

At the estimated $766 million, it would increase existing property tax rates by an average of $3 per $1,000 assessed value per year over the life of the bond. This would mean $600 per year for the owner of a home assessed at $200,000.

Most school directors have been inclined to favor a May vote to allow more time to consider possible reductions in the bond proposal. Michael Wolfe, chief operating officer of the district, reported at a board work session May 24 the recommendations of a task force that he said could reduce the bond proposal to $656 million.

Director Jim Green, however, said Tuesday that because of uncertainties about property assessments in May, he thought a November vote would be preferable.

Melissa Martin, representing The Nelson Report, and Jeanne Magner, representing C&M Communications, had reported at the May 24 work session that the results of a telephone survey of 342 district voters from April 10 through April 18 showed a good chance that a $766 million bond measure would pass.

Of those contacted, they said, 60 percent favored the proposal, 35 percent opposed it, and 5 percent were undecided.

Top reasons for favoring it were that education is important (24 percent), that schools need the funding (22 percent), and that those questioned always supported education (14 percent).

Those against a bond in that amount said it would cost too much (29 percent), that the district is mismanaging the money it has (21 percent), and that taxes are too high (16 percent).

Magner said voters should be more likely to pass the proposed bond than they were before such a bond in the district was approved 10 years ago. She noted that Portland Public Schools and the Albany School District recently passed more expensive measures.

Asked what they considered the most serious district problems, 129 of those polled said crowded classes. Lack of funding came in second at 68. The remaining eight were old facilities, 22; financial mismanagement, 20; budget cuts, 17; poor curriculum, 16; too much administration, 16; high dropout rate, 14; and a deficient education, 14.

Sixty percent of the respondents had voted in three or four of the last four elections, and 66 percent were 45 or older and thus less likely to have children in school.

The poll included questions about specific provisions in the proposed bond measure. The respondents’ narrowest margin was to the question of willingness to pay what would be an additional $600 a year for a $200,000 home. Fifty-four percent said yes, 37 percent said no, and 9 percent were not sure.

Regarding priorities, 63 percent of those polled put safety and security improvements at the top of the list. Adding space at the high schools and cafeterias to nine elementary schools were tied for second place at 59 percent. At the bottom of the high-priority list was selling existing property and building office space to consolidate administrative functions, with 25 percent.