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‘What our students deserve’: Bend-La Pine School Board preparing to send 5-year local option levy to May ballot

(Update: Adding video, comments from Bend-La Pine Schools)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – Bend-La Pine Schools are planning to put a five-year local option levy on the May 21 ballot. School board Chair Melissa Barnes Dholakia explained the need for the levy on Wednesday.

"Bonds are for buildings -- they're for that, construction," she said. "The rebuild of Bend High is a great example of that. For levies, what we're really looking at is learning."

The school board discussed Tuesday evening the details of the proposed levy and heard a presentation on recent survey results that indicate its potential for success.

The planned levy is for $1 per $1,000 of assessed property value, to bridge a funding gap and support.

The proposal has been discussed since last summer, when the school board directed staff to look into options for such a measure, Director of Communications Scott Maben said in an issue summary prepared for Tuesday’s meeting. It would generate about $23 million in the first year, he noted.

The ballot summary said the district “is unable to fully fund student focused programs and services with revenues received under the state funding model.” It said the levy “would allow the district to bridge the funding gap” in areas such as maintaining class sizes, adding Career Technical Education (CTE) pathways, and recruiting and retaining teachers and staff.

Maben explained what CTE programs are about: "This is everything from natural resources and forestry to manufacturing, construction, welding, health services, careers. There's so much more that we could be doing, and we've heard that loud and clear from our community." 

Other priorities the added funds would be directed toward include increased advanced academic offerings, improved support systems for struggling students and enhanced elective offerings in music, art, technology, business and world languages.

“Passage of the levy would help the district focus on strategies that prepare students for lifelong learning and career success,” the draft ballot summary states, noting that the district serves over 17,000 students in 33 schools.

A staff presentation listed seven of the largest Oregon school districts that have local option levies, as regulated by state law, while Bend-La Pine is one of seven large districts without such a levy. In Central Oregon, only Sisters has a local option levy, at 75 cents per $1,000.

In the concluding recommendations from its surveys, conducted in November and January, Nelson Research said, “The proposed measure presents a reasonable opportunity for success.”

JL Wilson, a principal with Nelson Research, led the board through the two surveys' results, with some strengths and cautions.

For example, he said, "I'd be very cautious talking about things people perceive the school district should already be doing."

Board member Carrie McPherson-Douglass pointed to a below-50 percent figure for people (likely voters who were surveyed) responding to a statement about whether they trust the district to spend the money wisely. But in context, Wilson said, "46% was one of the highest numbers I've ever seen."

The school board faces a March 1 deadline to submit the text of a levy proposal to the Deschutes County Clerk’s Office in order to make the May ballot. A vote is expected to happen at the board's Feb. 27 workshop.

Barnes Dholakia said, "We want to be able to meet what the community expects, and what our students deserve in Bend-La Pine's Schools. That's why we're seeking this local option levy."

You can watch their discussion on the proposed levy, an update on the Bend Senior High renovations and other agenda topics here:

Article Topic Follows: Education

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Kelsey McGee

Kelsey McGee is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Kelsey here.

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Barney Lerten

Barney is the digital content director for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Barney here.

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