PORTLAND, Ore. – Students from Lincoln, Madison and Benson high schools staged a brief sit-in at the Tuesday night school board meeting to lobby for a $750 million school improvement bond on the November ballot.
A short recess was called, and the meeting continued. The board voted to keep the bond on the May, 2017 ballot.
"Whether the bond passes in November or May the work starts at the same time and it won't start right away because that doesn't happen with bonds," said board member Pam Knowles.
Lincoln High school students planned to walk out of school Wednesday morning.
Lincoln students upset with outcome. Plan to walk out Wednesday morning. pic.twitter.com/JW5Ox8GC3H— Mike Benner (@MikeBennerKGW) September 7, 2016
In July, the Portland Public Schools board said it would hold off on proposing the bond, which would be the biggest local bond in the city’s history, because board members think it has a better chance of passing in May. Delaying the vote would also give the board a chance to hire a new superintendent.
The bond would fund building improvements at the old and overcrowded Lincoln, Madison and Benson high schools and Kellogg Middle School, as well as environmental health and safety upgrades district-wide.
“Lincoln's building is ridiculously inadequate. My only hope is that future Lincoln students don't have to
go through the same things that we've gone through and the same goes for future Madison students and Benson students as well,” said Michael Ioffe, a 17-year-old senior at Lincoln High School who helped lead the sit-in.
Ioffe said asbestos, lead and radon issues are threatening students’ health, as well as earthquake risks. Like many others in the Northwest, Ioffe read the New Yorker article about how Portland and the Northwest is unprepared for a major earthquake.
“For a while, especially after the New Yorker article was released, I was extremely worried about going to school,” Ioffe said.
He said Lincoln is at 200 percent capacity. The school is so crowded the fire marshal recently told students that eating lunch inside is a fire hazard.
Responding to some of the concerns raised, school board chair Tom Koehler sent a public letter over the weekend outlining why the board had decided to delay the bond vote.
"1. The very real need to build trust back to PPS with the community and the voters in the aftermath of mishandling environmental and safety for our children and the risks of going to the ballot at the height of that mistrust,
2. The real need to re-evaluate and change our investment plan to include health and safety investments beyond the high school rebuilds and to do so with a level of specificity and knowledge that we owe ourselves, the tax payer and our duty to good governance.
3. The need to rebuild and infuse with top talent, and reorganize a very depleted administration so that we can function in the professional high level manner necessary to carry out all the duties of a successful School District including the execution and communication of the bond program."
A $482 million bond to renovate Franklin, Roosevelt and Grant high schools and rebuild Faubion School passed in 2012. That bond cost taxpayers $1.10 per every $1,000 of their home’s assessed value, which is $220 for a home assessed at $200,000.
PPS has said the proposed bond could be spread out over multiple years so it doesn’t ding taxpayers in one single year.