A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Council backs $159M school bond

Written March 22nd, 2017 by Hasso Hering

Albany School Board Chairman Micah Smith, left, and Superintendent Jim Golden talk to the city council Wednesday.

No one argued about the issue or the amount of money involved Wednesday before the Albany City Council quickly and unanimously endorsed the school board’s request for a $159 million bond issue that’s on the ballot in May.

Superintendent Jim Golden and Micah Smith, board chairman for the Greater Albany Public Schools, appeared before the council and asked the council to support the bond request. Proceeds of the bond sale would pay to make facility upgrades, provide space for vocational and technical education in the middle and high schools, build a new elementary school in northeast Albany, expand Oak Grove Elementary in North Albany, and start to rebuild West Albany High, providing for an auditorium, among other things. (The school district has published a complete list of projects here.)

GAPS estimates that the bonds would require a property tax rate of $2.35 per thousand dollars of assessed value over 20 years. The payments would start when an existing bond issue expires. So instead of dropping when the old bonds are paid off, the school-related tax rate would rise by 64 cents a thousand.

Among the points made by Smith and Golden as they appeared before the council: It’s been almost 10 years since Albany built the last new school (Timber Ridge in 2008); enrollment is expected to keep climbing because Albany is a less expensive place to live than Salem and certainly Corvallis; and much more needs to be done in the vocational and technical studies to prepare students for work.

If the bond passes and accomplishes al the planned improvements, don’t expect it to be the last one. Golden said it would take another bond issue to finish rebuilding West High, which dates from 1953. Eventually the new school’s front entrance will be from Liberty Street instead of Queen Avenue.

Councilman Dick Olsen, a champion of Central Elementary School who prevented the school district from closing the building in 1979, worried that GAPS might stop using the structure, which dates from 1915. Golden responded that the district would need all its “assets” to hold the expected influx of students.

The school bond comes at a time when the city of Albany is also looking for more money. The council has just enacted a new storm water utility fee and is talking about ways to raise more money for streets, with a gas tax or by some other means. The council also heard Wednesday that it will soon get a report on the unmet needs of the wastewater system. On the state level, the legislature is working on a gas tax hike as well, a boost likely to be bigger than the 3 cents a gallon the city is talking about. All of it is a reflection at least in part of the fact that all our public infrastructure — from streets and bridges to sewer pipes and schools — are up to a century old and no one has been collecting enough money to replace them when they wear out. And the costs are staggering. Golden told the council that building a new high school now costs $100 million.

None of that entered the council discussion Wednesday. Smith, who in the May 16 election is running for re-election against two challengers, asked for the council’s endorsement of the bond. Councilman Bill Coburn moved that the council give its support, and all six members voted aye. (hh)








26 responses to “Council backs $159M school bond”

  1. Shane says:

    Good to hear. Needs to be done. It’s the cost of a lot of aging infrastructure and being seen in private business too. Don’t have to like it, but do have to deal with it.

  2. Shawn says:

    On year ago, GAPS spent $41,000 for an efficiency study of Albany schools. Among the recommendations:

    Close three elementary schools. The article is here:


    Quoting from the article:
    “More than 9,000 students are enrolled in the Albany district, but 15 elementary schools are too many for a district of this size, Mabbott told the board.

    In comparison, he noted, David Douglas School District, with more than 10,000 students, has just nine elementary schools, and Springfield, with about 11,000 students, has 12. Even widespread Klamath County has only 11 elementary schools.

    The study also recommends building a new school to house the 310 Clover Ridge-area students and shifting third-graders back to that school to open more room at Timber Ridge.”

    So now here we are one year later, and the school district is wants to ignore one suggestion, but accept the second. It seems that the purpose of the recommendation was that closing 3 schools while building (or rebuilding) another would be more efficient.

    It is not efficient to simply add another school. By building another school, each of the other schools will have their budgets effectively reduced.

    This is one of the reasons I can not support this bond proposal.

    • Tim Hanson says:

      The closure of the 3 smallest schools would require redistribution of 415 students or 5% of the district enrollment. Unfortunately, 2 of the schools are remote geographically and would require long bus rides. Do we think that any of Albany elementary schools has room for more students? Now most schools have 2 or more modulars added on to handle expansion. So to keep putting more students in the same space, means more purchases or leasing of modular buildings.

  3. Dick Olsen says:

    Thank you Hasso for reporting my concerns about the future of our local grade school, Central School. I was disappointed that Golden and Smith could not dispel the rumors I hear that Central will be phased out as a grade school and be converted to a district office building. I was further disappointed that they showed no interest in bringing back Central as a full fledged K through 5 grade school instead of only 3,4and 5 as it is now. I hear many comments of disappointment from parents of young children over the strange situation where Takena School is K through 2 and Central is 3 through 5. Some go elsewhere other than GAPS.

    • Tim says:

      This is the same situation with the Groves and Clover Ridge/Timber Ridge. GAPS has several smaller size schools that can only handle <200 students, requiring there to be split in grades K-5. Do you propose that each school have separate administrators or share one?

  4. Tony White says:

    There are so many reasons to vote “no” on this measure that I won’t try to list them in this comment section. Reason enough: it will raise school taxes 37%.

    • Tim Hanson says:

      Tony. I can list so many reasons to vote “yes.” If you think this costs a lot now, just wait a few years and see if it gets any cheaper.

  5. Craig Z says:

    Great. Based on your 2.35 per thousand figure, this will raise my taxes over $700.00 a year. How are those of us on fixed incomes supposed to continually absorb all these rate hikes and levy increases into our personal budgets ? The schools already get more than half of my entire tax bill now. I have to manage my budget, I suggest government needs to do a better job at it too.

    • ean says:

      Taxes are going up $0.65 per thousand.

    • Thomas Aaron says:

      Ean is completely right on the rate. It’d only be $195 annual increase, or about $16.25 per month.

      Fixed income funding a $300k tax assessed home? Must be nice!

      • Shane says:

        “Fixed income funding a $300k tax assessed home? Must be nice!”

        Haha! Exactly! This is the true problem, so many living beyond their means.

        • Shawn Dawson says:

          Nope Shane, definitely not living beyond means.

          Ever increasing property values are the real culprit. We bought ours for 159,000 (3x my salary) in ’97, and it’s pushing that 300,000 barrier. The very next year, the county thought we paid too little for it and assessed it at 20,000 more than that, regardless of what the free market said. It has been increasing 3% a year ever since, while my salary has not.

          My mother bought hers (in Jefferson) in 1975 for $32,000 (which was 1.5X my dad’s salary) and hers is now at 250,000.

          Definitely did not purchase a house beyond our means, rather the ever increasing rise in property values prices and taxes folks out of their homes. Immoral it is.

  6. ean says:

    They should really rename the Baby Boomers the Can Kickers. So many problems that should have been taken care of years ago.

  7. tom cordier says:

    No surprise Council supports the bond. Rule is: one taxing district never criticizes another taxing district for fear of blowback. Here are some reasons to vote No.

    * BOND IS BLOATED. For a year a special interest group
    posted signs all around town seeking support for a new
    Performing Arts Center. Failing that, they badgered the
    Board to propose two new buildings. One is called a gym,
    the other is called an auditorium hoping voters won’t know.
    * VOTE NO-THIS TIME, to force the public school lobby to
    request only “essentials” not “wants”. Since more kindergarten
    space is needed; fully reopen Fir Grove and Fairmount since
    lot of money has been spent on the buildings..
    has a $22M unfunded liability with no plan. Expect (3)
    15% rate hikes by 2022 says a recent PSU study.
    UNDER FUNDED because of PERS spending, so District has
    relied on bonds like this one. To change that, contracts
    with GAPS employees should be renegotiated to place
    caps on monies paid by the District for PERS costs.
    Employees must carry more economic burden.
    We all need economic relief after Fire/Police Bonds.
    *STRUCTURALLY SAFE. The $55M, 2006, 10 year
    bond funded 100yr old Central School repairs to
    adequate earthquake requirements. No other schools
    require those improvements.
    Now the cry is replace WAHS because of its’ age??
    *FIRST PHASE -THEN WHAT ? Funding a “First Phase”
    for a new WAHS is not wise. No scope or costs of
    Phases I-X are defined. Vote no to stop this blank check.
    Insiders are appointed who have no say before the
    money is spent. They’ll check the boxes afterwards.
    *TWENTY YEARS OF DEBT AND TAXES. Normal life of a
    bond is 5 or 10 years. The last school bond was for 10 years
    and was to look at needs for the next 20 years.
    Stop this 37% tax increase by voting NO

    • Tim Hanson says:

      Do you have a structural engineering study that says all other schools in Albany are structurally sound in the event of an earthquake? Most were built to different codes in the 60’s and 70’s. Eventually these schools need replacing or updating. Many have obsolete plumbing and heating systems.

      Here is a list of all the projects for each school in the district.

      • Tom W says:

        Tim Hanson, In reality, there is no building structurally sound in the event of an earthquake…. mild one perhaps, but the big one, no. Eventually they will all need replaced sure, but 159 million?

    • Thomas Aaron says:

      Wow! What a bunch of FUD! Back your scare monger statements with some non-biased peer reviewed references please.

      Speaking of referencing things, it sure looks like you aspire to be the next Bill Sizemore.


  8. tom cordier says:

    The standard achieved by reinforcing Central was to be able to get the students out of the building in the event of a quake. Other existing buildings met that standard. I see no reason to increase the standard. Sure new building codes have changed over time . Obsolete hvac and plumbing are not in same category.
    Beyond PERS–what is the district’s plan to control/reduce employee costs which account for very high(85?) % of total costs?? What is the total cost ( salary,+ all benefits) per employee by job classification?

    • Shane says:

      Wonder what you have cost me (us) in legal fees, etc over the years…? Just like any big business, the cost of protecting themselves against people like you is a great deal of that fat you’d like to cut. You’re a part of the problem not the solution.

  9. David Ballard says:

    The 20-year $159 million proposed school bond Ballot Measure 22-165 will not receive an affirmative vote from this property tax payer.

    However, I would likely approve a similar bond issue which did not exceed $92 million.

  10. Tom W says:

    Wait a second, build a new elementary school in NE Albany?…..did they not already build one off of Knox Butte Rd here not too long back?

  11. James Engel says:

    Of course our City Council would endorse this bond. CARA’s “cut” would be… $$-(?) JE

    • Gordon L. Shadle says:

      Hey Jim,

      I don’t believe CARA will receive anything from a GAPS bond, if it passes.

      Back in August 2013 the city council passed a resolution saying CARA will not siphon any money from any future bond measure (city or overlapping taxing districts).

      In May 2014 I asked Wes Hare to confirm, and he replied in part:

      “It is important to remember that a resolution can be changed by a majority vote of the council, so it’s possible, but I believe unlikely, that the council could change this policy decision.”

      Grabbing a slice from a $159M pie must be pretty tempting. Keep your fingers crossed the city council controls its gluttonous urge and keeps the August 2013 resolution alive.

  12. centrist says:

    One key assumption behind the bond justification is continued increase in students. I’m not convinced that projection can hold up. The Boomer generation had fewer children than previous generations. The succeeding generation seems to be having fewer yet. Without a large increase in population, the student population will likely drop.

    Looks like this bond measure is an answer to the wrong question

  13. Hazel Siebrecht says:

    I can not support this bond measure. My husband and I live in Millersburg (I know the myth is that our taxes are cheaper out here!). Our taxes last year were close to $3000 on our modest 1500 sq ft home. We pay our property tax in November and immediately start the process of saving to pay our next year’s taxes.

    Our Social Security has not increased for several years while everything else, including food and medical, has risen.

    The important question is, are we producing educated children?

  14. Robert kahn says:

    GREAT! Another tax bond brought to you by the incompetence of Albany City government. The standard montra to get us to go along with ” police, fire and teachers”, to make us feel guilty because they don’t how to manage the money they have collected from us already. When fiscal responsibility reappears, ask me then.


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