bond measure

The key to more money is getting more from the money you already have

Mon, 04/16/2012 - 11:08am
Cliff Pfenning
Cliff Pfenning's picture
Last seen: 2 weeks 1 day ago
Joined: 2010-07-01

In 2007, the Parkrose School Board looked several years into the future toward a bond measure it knew it would send to voters in 2011 and came up with a plan to help lobby the public: fix the football team.

For nearly two decades, Parkrose High had struggled to win on the field, especially in conference games. Headed for its second year in Class 5A, the Broncos hadn't won a conference game in 15 years.

That's right, no conference wins for 15 years.

The streak was easily explained by the school (around 1,100) being smaller in size to other schools within the Mount Hood Conference, but other schools the same size across the state were competitive on an annual basis. Ashland, roughly 1,100 students, had won the state title three times in the previous three decades.

So, school board members decided to devote energy to fixing the team. And, it had no trouble talking about a future bond measure being a motivator.

"Football is what gets press," School Board Chair James Woods said after Parkrose had lost its 81st straight district game dating to 1992. "We've got a great dance team, great drama, a great girls water polo team, but they never show up in the paper.

"Football is where the action is and we have to do a better job on the field to get people's attention because we've got things we need here. Our schools are bursting at the seams and if we're going to get a bond measure passed in the near future, we've got to be able to show that we can make things work, like the football team."

Four years later, the plan worked. The board and high school administrators had worked to revitalize the football program, which finally won a league game and then even qualified for the state playoffs, and voters passed a $63 million bond, which included money for a new middle school.

The bond passed by just six votes, but it passed.

In the neighboring Portland Public Schools district, a much larger bond measure - $548 million - failed. It failed, by one account, by just 601 of more than 120,000 votes, but it failed.
Football success likely had no impact on voting as most people had no reason to focus on football teams winning or losing. But, that can change.

As district leaders in Portland attempt to figure out how to organize another bond measure and then get it accepted by Portland voters, the Parkrose plan provides a good, and much needed, example for success: fix the football team.

What better way to show voters the district can put its energy to an issue and create results?

There's a lot of teams to fix, too.

In 2011, the district's six Class 5A schools struggled to win in alarming fashion. In the OSAA rankings that determine state playoff seeding, Jefferson ranked No. 21 among the 5A schools and won the Portland Interscholastic League title. The other five PIL schools? Dead last.

Among the 37 Class 5A school, the bottom five were from Portland: Franklin, Wilson, Benson, Cleveland and Madison.

At Class 6A, both PPS schools: Grant and Lincoln; won playoff games, and Roosevelt qualified for the Class 4A playoffs. But, at Class 5A, only Jefferson reached the playoffs, and the Democrats, who played for the state title two years earlier, lost 54-0 to eventual state champion Mountain View in the first round.

In non-league games, the six PIL teams went 2-26.

It's easy to argue that winning in football has nothing to do with academic success or why people vote for or against a bond measure, but the Parkrose plan offers at least a theory for how to get a bond passed - tell your constituency you're going to do something and then make it happen.

Football is the sport with the greatest chance to show off as there's simple ways to keep track of success - wins and losses, especially if the improved wins and losses were achieved without the need for more money. Some self-analysis might be all that's needed.

At Parkrose, administrators studied another school district and developed the varsity football program into the programs at younger grades. It hasn't turned the varsity team into a consistent winner, but the team does win and is competitive in most of its games. Kids register to play at a young age and keep playing so that numbers are not the problem they were before the board vaulted into fixing the team. The school board energy "fixed" the program by redeveloping how the teams got onto the field.

Getting the football team to be competitive might have only affected a few dozen, or even just a handful of voters, but it was something the district could promote as a success story in an extremely intense election year. The Parkrose bond was replacing a bond measure that was expiring, so it wouldn't raise property taxes. The Portland bond measure was being created, so property taxes were slated to increase, and Parkrose administrators had to battle to explain the difference to its voters.

With every little bit of success likely needed to get any future bond measure passed, especially in the current economic climate, success on a football field can be a significant factor for Portland Public Schools if the district can utilize that success appropriately.

It doesn't need to even involve winning, it just needs to involve success.

As it turned out, Portland's two non-league wins were both over the same team - Parkrose. Wilson beat Parkrose during the regular season, and Jefferson beat Parkrose during the play-in round that qualified the 16 teams for the state playoffs.

That was on the field, though. Off the field, Parkrose had already beaten Portland 601-6, and was making plans to construct a new middle school.

Tomorrow, the PIL's football history.

When will Portland's school leaders re-examine Coach Smith?

Wed, 05/18/2011 - 6:41am
Cliff Pfenning
Cliff Pfenning's picture
Last seen: 2 weeks 1 day ago
Joined: 2010-07-01

In the sports world, if you were a fan of the Portland Public School system, you’d be pretty upset today with the impending failure of a bond measure sent to voters that would have rebuilt a number of buildings in the district.

A serial levy aimed at supporting the annual budget was passing by about the same margin as the bond measure was failing – 53 to 47 percent.

That’s winning with the levy - $57 million, but losing on the bond measure - $548 million.

After this result, hopefully the district’s Board of Directors will come to their senses and make a dramatic, yet needed decision, if a similar bond measure is to have any chance of passing during the 2012 general election: it needs to replace superintendent Carole Smith.

With the failure of another big idea, district leadership has another example that it simply doesn’t understand its own district, that’s parents and voters. Smith is the head coach of district leadership. So, she should get the fallout. And, that fallout should be in the form of a new job – somewhere elese.

Portlanders had two very different votes in front of them Tuesday.

The levy was a much easier vote to pass because it replaced a levy that voters had previously passed. This one just cost a little more, but every homeowner was already paying basically the same amount for a similar objective.

The bond measure? Well, it kind of sucked the more anyone learned about it. And, as a voter and parent and homeowner within the district, I felt that way, too. I live in the Jefferson High district and would love to have seen the school rebuilt from the ground up, because that would have been like getting an old school replaced with … Jesuit. My kids would get there in five years, when the smell of freshness would still be overwhelming.

Rebuilding Jefferson and several other schools, including Roosevelt and Cleveland High, were the key elements of the bond measure. A bond that paid for just rebuilding those schools might have had a better chance of passing because the results of the money were clear. It’s the rest of the bond that caught everyone’s attention, mine, too.

The elementary school my kids attend would have gotten a new, more efficient heating system, some other repairs, and … a covered playground. That’s right, a covered playground that it doesn’t need. It needs a new gym that can be constantly used by the school and community, not a covered playground that would rarely be used.

So, yes the bond gets you tickets to see the Lakers, the Heat, the Celtics, Bulls and Thunder. But, you’re also paying to see the Cavaliers, the Wizards, the Bobcats and Timberwolves. And, you get to see the Heat as many times as you get to see the Wizards.

Opponents of the bond didn’t need to spend any money, they just wrote a few op-ed stories pointing out how the district wanted to use money to build things like covered playgrounds.  Build schools? Yes. Build playgrounds. No. When they were attached to the same vote that would cost a homeowner an average of $350, that vote had failure written all over it.

Yes, the gym would be more expensive to build, but it would have been easier to see its value and attach that feeling to the rest of the bond. If a voter is going to pay for something big, it better have some big results – a gym, not a covered playground.

Way to go PPS Board of Directors and its public leader, Carole Smith, for firing up another 30-foot bomb that only had a remote chance of even hitting the rim, much less finding the net.

When the district recoils and puts another bond on the ballot in 2012 (and it damn well better because the need for all the projects covered by this one is still there), it needs to have different leadership for that bond to have any chance at passing.

And that means a different head coach.

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