News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Sisters School District to put up building bond levy

Sisters voters will be asked May 18 to pass a bond for the construction of a new elementary school to replace the current building that is undersized and in need of major renovation.

A 2001 bond that was used to build Sisters High School is “retiring,” which means that if the levy is passes the tax rate of 93 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value would simply continue, allowing the creation of a $33.8 million fund for construction of the new school and renovations and upgrades on other district property.

Population growth in Sisters has forced the issue for the district, according to school board chair Jay Wilkins.

Sisters School District officials say the need for space is immediate. Plans for next year at the elementary include the installation of two portable classrooms to accommodate the current population, which has filled the elementary to the brim and beyond, according to Wilkins. The growth rate for the area is projected at 27 to 30 percent over the next decade.

Wilkins said, “There is a two-year lead time on the construction, so starting now let’s catch up to the growth. Current interest rates are low and the retiring of old debt also makes acting now more attractive than waiting.”

In the new configuration, fifth-graders, who are currently housed at the middle school, would be reabsorbed by the elementary school in a K-5 configuration.

In addition to lacking space, the current elementary building is outdated in many ways, according to Principal Joan Warburg.

The new site for the elementary is planned on property owned by the district near the middle and high schools, which will add a certain level of efficiency and consolidation for the district. For example, specialists that serve more than one age group would have closer proximity to students, mentorships would be more readily accommodated, and program collaboration would be more accessible.

In addition, given that Sisters Park & Recreation District is also on adjoining property, nearly all youth-related activities will be on the same side of town.

The future of the current Sisters Elementary School (SES) site is yet to be determined.

Wilkins told The Nugget that, “the old SES building can be an extremely valuable asset for the Sisters Community. During the construction of the new building, the District and the bond oversight committee will host a series of community engagements with voters, the City of Sisters, and other key stakeholders to understand the greatest needs and best possible uses of the building. Only after this due diligence can the District implement the best plans for the old SES building.”

Sisters resident Winter Lewis, who has helped spearhead previous political action committees (PAC) supportive of the local-option levies that provide additional local funding to schools in Oregon, has volunteered to lead the PAC for the May bond election, and expects to have a website set up by March 1 for those interested in helping to pass the bond. According to Wilkins, Lewis has already recruited a number of veteran PAC members as well as new volunteers.

“As a district we feel this is the best plan to meet the needs of our students,” said superintendent Curt Scholl.


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