More than 100 people attended three community meetings in May. More than 500 completed an online survey about possible bond packages.
Upgraded high schools, and seismic safety and overall building condition, emerged as key priorities.
“Our schools are essential to the strength of our community, and the decision to rebuild them must be shared and supported by the community,” says Chief Operating Officer C.J. Sylvester. “The insights and leadership from parents, teachers business leaders and community members over the past year, including the input this month, has been invaluable to shaping next steps for modernizing our schools.”
Most PPS schools were built in the World War II era or earlier, and most need work. Because it would decades to modernize all schools, the discussion has centered on which schools should go first and why.
Yearlong citizen-driven process
The meetings are the latest phase in a yearlong process that began after a PPS school construction bond failed by less than 600 votes last May:
Several at the community meetings spoke against going out for another bond because additional property tax is a hardship in a poor economy. Others expressed concern about investing in buildings when PPS is struggling to invest in teachers. (Learn about the difference between capital and operating funds).
Yet many said that investing in 21st century learning environments supports student achievement and effective instruction and could encourage more state funding for teachers and school operations.
“Our schools are in bad physical shape,” said Scott Bailey, a PPS parent and a labor economist. “They don’t meet the Americans with Disabilities Act and they’re really not very good for teaching kids. They’re old rectangular rooms. Our kids need more than that. This is a 30-year project at least. We need to get started.”
Bailey, Stuart Emmons and Nancy Hamilton, who served on the Long-Range Facilities Plan Advisory Committee and the Bond Development Committee, led the May meetings. (See the feedback summary.)
Standard shifts school rankings
A number of people asked why some schools, such as Laurelhurst, Cleveland and Markham, were recommended for rebuilding in the last bond but not included to date in the list of most likely schools for this bond. (See bond options)
PPS officials explained that since the last bond measure, PPS has updated its building condition ratings in several areas including to align with a more precise national standard that factors in modular buildings and the useable space in a building, rather than the gross square footage used in earlier calculations. This changed the ranking of some schools.
In addition, public input and the work of two citizens committees narrowed priorities for bond consideration.
“The bottom line is that most PPS schools need work,” said Sylvester, the COO. “The effort now is to identify the starting point for a series of possible bonds to upgrade our schools over many years.”
Next steps in process
Now the Bond Development Committee is considering the May feedback to help leaders narrow the four bond options. The school board will discuss criteria for a bond at its meeting June 11 at district headquarters, 501 N. Dixon St. On June 18, the board will hold a public hearing as well as a work session. Details of the hearing will be posted on the PPS home page as soon as they become available. The board will decide next steps at its June 25 meeting.
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