Editorial: Even for tax-averse, school bond as good as it’s going to get

Sweet Home School District is asking voters to approve a $4 million general obligation bond.

In this case, we think it’s a good idea – and saying that about a proposed tax is a rarity for us.

As we speak, some Oregon legislators are seeking to replace the state’s existing corporate income taxes with a gross receipts tax (read: sales tax) following the failure of Measure 89, which would have levied a similar tax on corporations in the state.

One of our state’s biggest problems is that too many of our elected officials – and the voters who elected them – ignore the concept of financial responsibility in favor of services we simply can’t afford. So they’re looking to target financial resources that will have the least direct effect on Joe and Jane Average, sitting in their living rooms with ballots in their hands.

Legislators’ strategy in addressing the state’s financial troubles – PERS, health care, social programs that promote irresponsibility, infrastructure that’s behind the times – is to make productive members of society pay. And as far as the legislature is concerned, it’s real easy to spend other people’s money.

There are, however, real needs and legitimate costs the public must pay, and we believe the proposed bond levy before Sweet Home voters in the May 16 election addresses some of those.

Anyone who’s been to Sweet Home Junior High in recent years should be able to get the picture. The school is in poor shape and, to paraphrase one district staffer close to the situation, it’s gotten to the point where continuing to put band-aid fixes on the problems is costing more than just doing it right.

And that’s where this $4 million general-obligation bond comes in. As our reports on page 1 and, more comprehensively, in last week’s edition note, there’s icing on the cake this time. If voters pass the bond, the district gets a matching $4 million in state funds aimed at impoverished districts – like Sweet Home.

It’s two for one, and this should be as close to a no-brainer for us local voters, who are already paying off the bond we approved in 2001. District officials assert we likely will only end up paying the tax through 2029, the original final payment for the 2001 bond, at roughly the same rate we’ve been paying. (There is a chance that the district will have a partial payment in 2030 depending on interest rates.)

They’ve saved us money on the current bond by refinancing – twice. The first reduced the tax rate. The second reduced the term of the bonds. So we have some reason to listen to them on this.

We have a school built in 1962 that has some serious problems. This bond doubles our money to fix those flaws, which must be addressed at some point if we want to continue to have a junior high school.

There are other considerations here, too.

It’s no secret that Sweet Home’s poverty levels are on the rise. We know it anecdotally and school district figures tell us so.

Education is one way to combat the growing systemic poverty we see in our community.

Running students through a building that even a seventh-grader can see is in poor shape certainly doesn’t send much of a lesson about how the community of Sweet Home values education.

We talk about improving test scores and turning out responsible young people well-equipped to address life’s challenges, but if the building they spend two very formative years in looks, well, kind of like the proverbial red-headed stepchild, that doesn’t substantiate our assurances that we care.

Improvements, even if they are only functional, can demonstrate our commitment and community pride. The upgrades to the high school certainly demonstrate that. Fifteen years later, it still is a source of pride as we point it out to visitors: “There’s our high school.”

One more thing: We appreciate that the district has been socking away money in a long-term maintenance fund for years. There’s well over a million dollars now, and it takes care of quite a bit already. This is smart planning and district officials need to be recognized for that.

The reason we have a new athletic field inside Husky Stadium that is paid for is because money was systematically put aside over the years in anticipation of the need.

When it came time to replace the track, not only was their substantial cash on hand to do so, but support from the community made it possible to afford a new all-weather artificial turf field as well – paid for on the barrel head.

Sweet Home city officials have also demonstrated exemplary wisdom in this area, putting money aside for capital improvements. They did seek and win a 20-year $950,000 bond levy to cover half the cost of the Police Department building, which was completed in 2001; but the city paid off the bonds in 2011, more than half of the total debt 10 years early, eliminating the bond levy.

The city is now poised to begin using a new City Hall without going to voters for a bond. We don’t know yet how all that will turn out, but it’s smart financial planning that’s gotten us this far.

We’re big fans of the district’s capital improvements maintenance planning and we think it should be increased, at least in good financial years, in anticipation of other major expenses in the future.

Public schools are just that – public. They belong to all of us, and it’s our responsibility to do what we can to make them as functional and productive as possible.

This bond, especially with the state doubling the money, can do exactly that.