June 22, 2001 11:00 pm

Many Oregon school districts are in dire need of capital repairs. The Secretary of States Audits Division in a study of public school infrastructure found that Oregons 198 school districts, with more than 1,200 school buildings, have $2.4 billion in maintenance and renewal needs. With the changes wrought by Measures 5 and 47/50, including the double majority requirement, districts have been reluctant or unsuccessful in obtaining funding to keep up with building needs. These needs range from old mechanical and electrical systems, leaking roofs, warped and buckling floors to poor ventilation and inadequate space.

Keeping up with physical needs is a challenge. In growing metro areas, districts are simply outgrowing their schools. In rural areas, where declining enrollment is an issue, there isnt adequate funding to address infrastructure needs that are growing worse every year.

A possible solution exists in the Legislature, but HJR-46A is stalled in the Senate by Senate President Gene Derfler, R-Salem. The measure, which passed the House 51-1, would ask voters to give the state authority to issue if resources are available general obligation bonds to provide matching funds for locally approved school district capital projects. It also would provide a one-time $200 million bond to finance the capital costs of Oregon Health Sciences Universitys biotech investment program. Derfler supports the OHSU component but not the K-12 portion.

The resolution makes sense considering the condition of Oregon schools. It would provide a funding option that would save taxpayers millions of dollars in interest payments over the life of the bonds when compared to the cost of revenue bonds. And, most importantly, it gives voters the right to accept or reject the concept.

The time has come for House Speaker Mark Simmons to flex his political muscle. The legislative body over which he presides overwhelming supported HJR 46-A. He needs to convince Derfler that Oregonians should have the opportunity to vote on a measure that could provide an option for school districts that are faced with escalating capital construction needs.

Oregonians not Derfler deserve the opportunity to decide. Simmons should do all that he can to see that citizens get that opportunity.


Golfers, mark your calendar. Sept. 21 has been set as the date for The Observers first benefit golf tourney, Tee Off for United Way.

The tournament at Buffalo Peak Golf Course in Union will benefit United Way of Union County. Details are being finalized, but the event should prove to be exciting.

Watch for more information in the days and weeks ahead. Although entry forms wont be distributed until August, its not too early to get the date on your calendar.