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Senior citizens, parents speculate why school bond failed

By Jayati Ramakrishnan

East Oregonian

Published on May 18, 2017 8:31PM


The Hermiston School District’s $104 million bond failed decisively in Tuesday’s election, and the district will spend the next few months trying to figure out what went wrong and what its next steps will be.

“At Monday’s school board meeting, the members will begin to unpack some of what they’re hearing from community members and via social media,” said district superintendent Dr. Fred Maiocco, adding that the district was in conversations with a third party to help gather community feedback in a more structured way.

He added that once the new board is seated, the district will discuss a target date for a new election and steps they need to take between now and then.

The bond had proposed expanding Hermiston High School, complete rebuilds for Highland Hills and Rocky Heights elementary schools and a new elementary school on East Theater Lane. The board had passed a bond in 2008 that replaced Sunset and West Park elementary schools, as well as Armand Larive Middle School on a new school-owned property.

“The new board will wrestle with not only the timing of a future election, but also the projects included with the ballot question,” Maiocco said. He said the earliest the board could choose to place a new ballot question before voters is November 7.

While Maiocco said the district still had much to discuss before pinpointing why the bond failed, some community members had an idea.

Virginia Beebe, a member of the Hermiston Senior Center, said she doesn’t live in Hermiston. But she heard many of her peers complain about the potential increase in taxes.

“We already had bonds out,” Beebe said. “They weren’t willing to go out for another.”

She added that many senior citizens she knew were put off by being told they had to move out of their current location whether or not the bond passed. The former fairgrounds where the senior center is located were purchased by the school district, and the senior center will move to a new building under construction near the Hermiston Public Library.

“It was very harsh,” she said. “They basically told us that the building comes down no matter what.”

Many other senior citizens at a lunch on Thursday declined to be named, but said they weren’t willing to vote for a bond that would raise taxes of people on fixed incomes.

A table full of people who all voted “no” on the bond said the additional $116 to their annual tax bill was too much to ask.

“If they would have just put the repair of Rocky Heights and Highland Hills on there, I probably would have voted for it,” said a woman named Chris, echoing a comment made by several other senior citizens at the lunch. “But I’m not voting for a new school.”

While several said they had voted “yes” on the previous bond measures, they felt the district should put more effort into maintaining the current buildings.

“In some ways, (buildings) could have been kept up and added onto,” said a woman whose family owns a business, and for whom taxes would have gone up around $1,000 annually if the bond had passed.

One woman at the senior center lunch, Loretta Stevens, said she and her husband voted for the bond.

“The schools need it,” she said.

But she added that many people feel like they’re being taxed out, and can’t afford it.

Some also said they felt the influx of Hispanic families has contributed to the population boom in schools, but felt that those populations weren’t paying their fair share of taxes.

Several parents picking up their children from Rocky Heights Elementary School on Thursday afternoon said they were disappointed the bond failed, and were surprised by the outcome.

“I was so sad,” said Katie Anderson. “I just think it was the money.”

She added that while she thinks the district will have to change the bond to get voters to support it, Rocky Heights should be a priority because of its safety concerns.

Liz Sharon, another parent, said she had a sign in her yard and supported the bond, but heard others complain about another tax increase when there were already other bonds still to pay.

But she said Rocky Heights is in need of the proposed repairs.

“It’s 56 years old,” she said, recalling some issues with the school’s roof. “It’s just worn down.”

Both Anderson and Sharon said they had not heard much chatter about the bond, but most of what they had heard had been in support.

Other parents said they would have supported the measure, but didn’t vote or forgot to turn in their ballots.

“Especially because our own kids go here,” one woman said. “You see it more at this school than others. And all the schools have multiple portables.”

Heather Beal, a parent at Rocky Heights, said most parents she knew supported the bond, because they see problems with the facilities on a daily basis.

“It’s so crowded,” she said.

In a statement the day after the bond failed, Maiocco said the district would continue to serve its growing population, using existing facilities and modulars.

“With no separate funding for the procurement of modular classrooms, any move to expand our temporary facilities will have to be paid with the same funding we use to pay for classroom supplies and materials, textbooks and employee wages,” he said.

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Contact Jayati Ramakrishnan at 541-564-4534 or jramakrishnan@eastoregonian.com



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