Entering Pleasant Hill from Eugene on Highway 58, drivers are greeted by a large banner hanging on the side of a parked van. It reads “No More Taxes! Vote No…Pleasant Hill School Bond.”
Just down the road is another banner urging voters to approve the school bond measure. The community is split on the nearly $18-million dollar, 20-year bond to upgrade the elementary and high school.
Debbie Laney teaches first grade at Pleasant Hill Elementary. During her fifteen years in the district, two schools were closed because of declining enrollment. This brought kindergarten through 6th grade under one roof in the elementary school. 7th through 12th grade share the high school, which is 51 years old. Now that enrollment has stopped dropping, the classrooms are filling up. Teachers have been added, but Laney says that hasn’t solved everything.
Laney: “Especially middle school kids don’t really have an identity anymore because we don’t have the junior high. And I think the bond would really be beneficial from that standpoint without adding to our tax burden significantly. We would be able to get a lot accomplished without a huge impact on pocket books.”
The district is finishing the 20-year bond measure approved in 1996 that helped build the elementary school. The new bond being voted on May 20th would begin when the old one expires. A homeowner would pay $215 dollars a year for every $100,000 dollars of assessed value.
Tony Scurto: “One of the concerns is the expense of it. It’s a $17.9-million dollar levy that we’re looking for.”
Pleasant Hill School Superintendent Tony Scurto.
Scurto: “That seems to be a number that some folks have just determined is too high. A notion that taxes are high enough, looking for some potential relief from them.”
Residents have shown broad support for the schools in the past, including fundraising for the new outdoor track and the Pleasant Hill Community Center. Donors include the families of the late author Ken Kesey and fellow Merry Prankster Ken Babbs. One teacher has taught the Kesey kids and grandkids.
Adams: "I'm Richard Adams and I've been teaching mostly science and history at Pleasant Hill High School since 1970. But this was put up in 1962 and there's a limit on what you can do. Like there's one electrical outlet in the back of the room for most of the rooms. I'd like to see rooms that were really set up to be laboratories. And of course, having technology to process data, but just having room for all the kids."
Junior Sierra Johnson agrees. In April she wrote an op-ed for the Register-Guard explaining how the bond measure would improve facilities and help students gain a better education.
Johnson: "For the level of success that we have at our school, I feel like our facilities should reflect that and that we should be able to have pride in what we have because we do have a great schooling system. The culture at the school is just that our school sucks and that it's like an awful facility and I want people to not say that. They should be proud of where we go. "
The bond money would demolish and replace the two main academic wings of the high school. The new facility would include separate classrooms, labs and commons for the grade levels. It would essentially make a middle school within the high school for 6th, 7th and 8th graders, giving them the identity they lack. On the elementary campus fifth and sixth graders currently reside in portable classrooms.
Another part of the bond would pay for security upgrades. The current layout allows anyone to walk into the hallways and classrooms without first checking in at the office.
The high school lacks a real kitchen to prepare and serve breakfast and lunch. Superintendent Scurto takes me into the gymnasium.
Scurto: "This is a concession stand for basketball games and this is the high school kitchen."
It's tiny, with a few ovens, a freezer, fridge and a salad bar that rolls out into the hall for service.
When Pleasant Hill High School was erected in 1962, a higher percentage of students brought lunch from home, so the design didn't include a kitchen. Now about 40-percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch.
At the elementary school, the kitchen is larger, but still cramped for the number of students who need to be fed. The bond money would pay to renovate the cafeteria and kitchen.
The Pleasant Hill School District also serves Dexter and Jasper. With open enrollment, they take in students from Goshen, Creswell and Eugene. But the parents in those areas can't vote on the bond measure, so it’s up to voters in the Pleasant Hill area to decide the future of the schools’ facilities.
Copyright 2014 KLCC.