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Published: Tuesday, 5/7/2013

Oregon says levy renewal vital to school services

BLADE STAFF

Oregon school officials have their fingers crossed that voters today will again renew the district’s permanent improvement levy, a tax they say is vital if the school system is to maintain its standards and services.

The 2-mill, five-year levy has been collected since 1968 and costs the owner of a $100,000 home about $61 annually. It will appear on the ballot as Issue 2.

The $1.15 million it generates each year covers major building repairs and upgrades to technology, buses, and textbooks. Those funds cannot be used for salaries.

The Oregon Schools Levy Committee, the volunteer group spearheading the pro-levy campaign, said the request is a renewal, not a new tax, said co-chairman Dennis Walendzak, who expressed optimism the renewal request would be successful.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of people in the community and they understand that no additional taxes are involved. I’ve received a lot of positive feedback. People know how important this is to the city and school district,” said Mr. Walendzak, who also is a member of Oregon City Council.

The pro-levy group has taken nothing for granted. It has planted yard signs across the district, and passed out informational flyers detailing how levy money has been spent since 2009.

A new roof at Starr Elementary, for instance, cost $714,100. The largest project, at $1.4 million, has been renovations at Eisenhower and Fassett middle schools. Educational technology expenditures were $541,531, and security cameras were installed throughout the district for $142,157, according to the flyer.

Board of Education President P.J. Kapfhammer said permanent improvement money has been spent for extensive energy efficiency upgrades that will pay returns to the district for years to come.

“We’ve cut our energy costs in half. That’s money we don’t take out of the general fund [for operations],” he said. “It means we are freeing up money for education.”

Superintendent Michael Zalar said that with the district’s big-ticket permanent improvement projects out of the way, the upcoming emphasis will be on buying technology to comply with new state educational mandates.

Mr. Zalar said security upgrades at the school buildings would continue.

More security cameras would be added, including cameras that send a live picture to the police department, and buzzer systems will be installed at the elementary buildings.

The district also would have to replace some of the buses in its aging fleet.

— Carl Ryan



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