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6/7 School News

Central district seeks

$13.5 million for repairs

MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE -- Officials of Central School District will seek public approval of a bond for building improvements during the general election in November.

The proposed $13.5 million bond would pay for a number of deferred maintenance projects at all area schools, as well as a seismic retrofitting of Independence Elementary School.

District board members authorized the measure in May, following an enrollment and facilities analysis last fall and a recent survey in which most of the 365 community residents polled said they would back the measure. (See related story below.)

District board members have been wrestling with the health and functionality of Central's five buildings for several years. Serious discussion of the bond issue began last July Hunter said.

"This was a tough decision to make," Hunter said, "in that we had to settle on what was the most important project to do ... and make sure we could get a data-driven decision."

Last year, officials commissioned a comprehensive review of the school buildings, as well as a demographic study of local population growth and its impact on district enrollment.

All but one of the district's six campuses -- Ash Creek Intermediate School -- suffer from problems ranging from leaky roofs and awkward physical layouts to inadequate infrastructure for new teaching technology.

Hunter said past engineering studies have concluded that 81-year old IES is structurally incapable of withstanding a significant earthquake.

"I've been told by fire officials that the second story would collapse onto the first in a major quake," Hunter said.

There are currently 2,763 children in the district. That number will grow by at least 80 students annually during the next 10 years, according to a fall enrollment analysis. IES and Central High already exceed capacity by 4 percent and 7 percent respectively.

In early May, officials hired consultants to survey the community members regarding a bond measure, in which $5 million would go toward deferred maintenance on all buildings and another $5 million to purchase land for a future school.

Three million dollars would be used to upgrade IES and another $500,000 to develop a shared sports facility for the schools.

Seventy-two percent of the 364 people interviewed favored the measure, according to the report. Hunter said the board based its decision on that tally.

"It's a very conservative bond issue," he said. "We felt the community was clearly saying lets take care of IES and the maintenance projects."

Business manager Leon Austinson said the measure would not increase taxes for local residents beyond the current rate, because it will take effect when some previously approved school bonds expire in 2007.

"That was important for the school board," Hunter said, "to know that whatever they were bringing to the voters would no result in higher taxes. "

Residents of Monmouth and Independence pay a school district property tax of $2.96 per $1,000 in assessed value.

If the measure passes, the district would bid out the IES project and possibly begin construction by next summer, Austinson said.

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Residents would approve

bond, survet indicates

MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE -- Seventy-two percent of the citizens who were interviewed on a proposed $13.5 million bond measure to pay for facility improvements in Central School District would say yes to the proposal.

According to the same study, 57 percent scored the district's educational and financial performance as positive, while 32 percent gave a "fair to poor" rating.

Those were among the results of a survey commissioned by administrators in early May to gauge public perception of the Monmouth/Independence school system and the proposed bond.

"We wanted to learn what the community's awareness was toward our needs and to determine what on our wish list they would support us in tackling," said Superintendent Joseph Hunter.

The survey was conducted between May 4 and 9 by The Nelson Report, a Salem-based research firm. Consultants performed phone interviews with 365 individuals in the Monmouth/Independence area.

Lack of funding, perceived poor spending and financial management were the issues most often mentioned during the survey, followed by the structural condition of Central's five schools and student performance.

Participants were informed of the district's deferred maintenance and that the $13.5 million bond would pay for health and safety renovations, seismic improvements to Independence Elementary School ,and land for a future school.

Seventy-two percent favored the proposal while 19 opposed. Nine percent said they weren't sure.

Respondents said upgrades to all of the schools' roofs, ventilation and heating systems should be the highest priority construction project, followed by a retrofitting of IES.

The approval for the bond rose by 2 to 5 percentage points when participants were told that the measure wouldn't raise taxes and that IES is more than 80 years old and structurally inadequate.

But support fell to less than 50 percent when respondents were asked if they approve a $28.5 million bond measure, a large portion of which would be used to raze and rebuild Central High School.

Other notable results from the survey:

* Thirty-three who gave the district a poor rating said they did so because students were being passed with inadequate education/life skills.

* More than half the participants in the study said Central schools are overcrowded.

* Regarding the subject of fiscal management, 26 percent said it spent the right amount amount of funding and 39 percent said adminstrators spent too much. Thirty-five percent did not know how the district spends its money.

* Principle reasons for believing the district spends too much are that funds are mismanaged and that Oregon gets less money for education than other states.

The 100-plus page research survey is avaiable for viewing at the Central School District business office. For more information: 503-838-0030.

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