School bond campaigns boosted by ELAF

Timely chapter endorsements and contributions from OSEA’s Education and Labor Advocacy Fund (ELAF) helped pass several local ballot measures on Nov. 8 that will invest more than a half billion dollars in Oregon schools.

Of the seven instances where OSEA provided financial support to local ballot measures, none proved more critical than in Gresham-Barlow’s campaign to pass a $291.2 million bond that narrowly won by 833 votes out of 33,419 cast. Voters in the state’s 10th largest school district had not approved a capital construction bond to upgrade facilities since 2000.

“OSEA’s contribution … three weeks from Election Day was absolutely instrumental,” said Jeremy Wright, who was the chief strategist for the Gresham-Barlow bond campaign. He said the timely contribution allowed the campaign to hire an organizer to focus on turning out late voters.

The measure funds safety and security upgrades designed to make Gresham-Barlow schools safe for students and staff, as well as renovation projects affecting every school building in the district.

According to Gresham-Barlow Chapter 8 Co-President Erika Fuller, reaction to the measure’s passage from her members has been actually mixed.

“We realize all too well the condition of the schools in the district (many of which are almost 100 years old) and the need for safety,” Fuller said. “Unfortunately, the size of the bond is a financial hardship to those of us who live in the district. … It’s a personal war between what you know is needed to maintain your community and workplace, and what you can afford.”

Fuller said she experienced this struggle herself.

“I personally will see an increase in my taxes of over $600 per year — I may actually lose my home — and I voted yes,” she said.

Despite the financial hardships posed by the measure, when the chapter surveyed its members, it found 56 percent of respondents supported the bond. The survey got the attention of the OSEA State Office in Salem, which donated $20,000 to the campaign from ELAF, OSEA’s political action fund supported solely through voluntary member contributions and not through dues dollars.

According to Wright, the donation allowed the bond campaign to send a powerful letter to every voter in the district from the mother of Emilio Hoffman, the 14-year-old boy who was killed in the Reynolds High School shooting in 2014. Jennifer Hoffman, whose daughter now attends Barlow High School, used her letter to highlight the key safety and security upgrades funded by the bond.

“Safety was, indeed, one of the major points of the bond campaign,” Fuller said. “Communities are much more aware in this day and age of the need for increased student safety.”

Safety was also a major selling point in North Clackamas’ campaign to pass a $433 million capital construction bond; though, unlike the Gresham-Barlow bond, the measure replaced an expiring bond approved by voters in 1998 and did not affect the current property value assessment rate.

The measure earned the endorsement of North Clackamas Chapter 71, and OSEA donated $15,000 to the bond campaign, which passed with almost two-thirds of the vote. The bond will pay for school locking systems and security cameras, in addition to paying for basic repairs and renovating facilities in eight schools.

OSEA support at the state and chapter levels helped pass another capital construction bond in the St. Helens School District. An attempt to pass a similar bond measure three years ago failed. This time, the $49 million bond passed with 56 percent of the vote.

“It was important for the community to pass this bond so our students and staff are in buildings that are safe and secure,” St. Helens Chapter 31 President Diana Peterson said, adding the bond committee was very appreciative of OSEA’s $5,000 ELAF donation.

“We (OSEA) were listed first on their thank-you-to-the-community post on Facebook,” Peterson said.

Another instance where OSEA assistance proved decisive was in the Corvallis School District, which renewed a five-year, $4.3 million local option levy with about 78 percent of the vote.

According to Corvallis Chapter 2 President Mary Marshall, OSEA’s $6,000 ELAF donation allowed the bond campaign to do a final mail push. In addition to the ELAF donation, Marshall said the chapter also made lawn signs.

Unfortunately, not all of the local ballot measures enjoying OSEA support were successful this election cycle. Vernonia’s attempt to pass $6.8 million in construction, facility enhancements and technology upgrades failed narrowly with about only 48 percent voting yes. An $88.9 million construction bond in the Molalla River School District and a five-year local option levy in the Fern Ridge Library District also came up short.

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