Voters in the Bend-La Pine Schools district are about to get mail ballots and decide on a record $268.3 million school bond in the May 16 special election.
With more people moving into the area every day, schools are again bursting at the seams, and the district thinks something needs to be done.
At Lava Ridge Elementary School, a library has been converted into a classroom to accommodate all the kids.
And at Bend High School, some students eat lunch in the hallway, because there’s more than 1,700 kids in a school designed for 1,500.
For these reasons and others, the school district is asking the community to approve a school bond that would go toward building two new schools and improving existing ones, in terms of safety, space and efficiency
According to Don Stearns, president of the Bend Education Association, overcrowding is one of the biggest problems,
“Most of the teachers are feeling that they have really crowded classrooms, not enough room to move around,” Stearns said Wednesday. “They feel the need to have some more space. Right now, our elementary schools, at least half of them, are at or above capacity.”
But with that much money, coming out of homeowner property taxes, (44 cents per $1,000 of property value), some people I spoke with, but who wouldn’t go on camera, had reservations about the measure. They wondered why, considering the region’s rapid growth, money hadn’t been set aside for school planning years ago. The school district grew by 5,000 students between 2000 and 2016.
Actually, Bend-La Pine has gone out to voters periodically in the past for bond money to build new schools and upgrade existing ones, most recently for $96 million in 2013.
But other people said it doesn’t matter what should have been done, but rather, what needs to be done now to benefit the families living here currently and down the road.
Bend resident Katie Byrnes said she supports the measure,
“The big issue with that is yes, you can have foresight and understand that things are going to grow, but I think you don’t really understand the expense it costs to educate a child, and that money is actually really prevention, so we don’t have to spend money on the other end.”
“It’s easy to think that if you don’t have kids, you don’t have to support schools,” she said. “But really, you’re supporting your community, and it makes your community better.”
Along with building a new high school and new elementary school, the construction bond money would be spent on hundreds of projects, including renovating classrooms, modernizing security systems, electrical wiring, and improving entrances.
The district also will seek to extend the life of the existing schools by upgrading roofs, heating, plumbing and ventilation systems.