Board of directors votes to forego a November general election ballot expected to be crowded and 'polarized'

The Woodburn School District board of directors agreed last week to forego the general election in November and instead put another bond issue before voters in May 2015.

A $65 million bond issue, intended to alleviate overcrowding, fund major maintenance and upgrade districtwide security, failed in the May 20 primary election by 37 votes, according to final results.

At its July 17 meeting, the school board discussed whether it should try again and, if so, when and how much. Board chairman David Vancil also opened the matter for discussion among district staff and community members in attendance.

The board members and all others who expressed opinions seemed unanimous that the district should not give up on the bond.

Director Linda Johnston pointed out that those in favor of the bond had campaigned on the message that it was vital to the health and effectiveness of the district.

“If we fail to go back, I think we send a different message that, ‘Well, maybe it wasn’t so important,’” she said. “And I disagree with that. I think it is important and I think we need to put the bond levy back on the ballot.”

Director Jody Daniels opined that “losing by 37 votes is not necessarily a loss.”

“It means you’re getting really close,” she said. “You’re really close, and I absolutely think we should go again with the bond measure.”

Those in attendance were only slightly less unanimous in the belief that the board should target the May 2015 primary for its next attempt, rather than the much-closer general election in November.

The general election is already crowded, with several statewide measures approved or gaining steam — including particularly polarizing ones concerning the legalization of recreational marijuana, the provision of alternative driver’s licenses to those who cannot prove legal residency and the mandatory labeling of GMOs.

“The November ballot is just turning out to be a contentious, polarized, nasty ballot,” Daniels rationalized. “I don’t want our Woodburn school bond to get caught up in the middle of that. I think that we’d get drowned out, and I?think that people who are angry and emotional don’t tend to vote ‘yes’ on anything.”

Several members noted that waiting until May would give the board more time to listen to voters, especially those who opposed the measure last time, and would give those in favor more time to prepare and dialogue with the community.

“As far as more communication, more opportunity to listen — I don’t think you can ever have too much of that,” said Linda Reeves, the newest member of the board. “When you think about November, it will be here before you know it. It’s important not to rush through this.”

Because voter turnout is generally much higher in general elections than primaries, Vancil said a campaign during the former would take far more resources, organization and volunteer time than a smaller election, when supporters could target specific groups and precincts.

Superintendent Chuck Ransom added that members of the political action committee in favor of the bond have expressed some fatigue following May’s narrow defeat, and may not be up for another grueling campaign so soon.

The main argument in favor of putting the bond back before voters sooner than next year’s primary is the ticking clock of November 2015.

The district’s current bond — which the new bond was designed to replace without increasing residents’ property taxes — expires at the end of this year and would first show up on the November 2015 tax bill. If the district’s bond isn’t passed before then, it would force the district to put before voters an actual tax increase rather than the more palatable “replacement” tax (actually a slight decrease) it could now offer.

“If you wait until May, you’re kind of limiting how many more times you can go out,” said district Business Director Nancy Hall.

In the end, the board voted unanimously to put the bond back before voters in May; however, the amount and content of the bond was not specified, to allow flexibility in hosting further hearings and work sessions with the public.

“The invitation is out there. I will meet personally with anyone in the community, or I will certainly provide opportunities in open forums and board meetings,” Vancil said. “We want to hear what people have to say.”

Tyler Francke covers all things Woodburn. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 503-765-1195.

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