The political action committees created to stump for the Astoria and Warrenton school bond measures on the ballot in November have taken different routes to get the message out.
Yes for Astoria Kids, a committee supporting a $70 million bond, has raised nearly $29,000 as of Tuesday. Yes for Warrenton-Hammond Kids, formed to stump for a $38.5 million bond, has so far raised $4,700.
The Astoria campaign’s contributions include numerous local businesses, several based in Warrenton. The Warrenton campaign has so far reported only a single contribution from a major business, Bergerson Construction, co-owned by Warrenton-Hammond School Board member Greg Morrill. It has also received a contribution from the Oregon Association of Realtors, which has donated to both campaigns, and expects to receive donations from school district employee groups.
Debbie Morrow, Warrenton-Hammond School Board chairwoman and director of the school district’s PAC, said Warrenton’s campaign never planned on raising more than $10,000 and is trying to remain low-key.
“We know our parents,” she said. “We’re reaching out to our parents in a way that resonates with Warrenton.”
Both campaigns have been advised by Jeremy Wright of Wright Public Affairs, a firm specializing in bond campaigns. David Oser, director of the Astoria PAC, said Wright set the budget.
“They laid out a path to victory,” Oser said. “It is really based on the size, the number of household voters, how many you have to reach.”
While the Astoria campaign retained Wright’s services, he provided some pro bono advice to Warrenton on messaging. “It sounds like they’re taking a more grassroots approach,” he said.
While raising money in school bonds is important, Wright said the ones that pass are when voters understand the need and can afford the tax increase.
“You win these things by having a two-way conversation with voters,” he said.
Astoria’s bond would pay for $45 million in modernization and security improvements at Astoria Middle School, $20 million at Astoria High School and $9 million at John Jacob Astor Elementary School. Lewis and Clark Elementary School and Capt. Robert Gray School would receive smaller improvements.
Astoria voters last approved $21.4 million in bonds in 2000 to build Lewis and Clark and improve the high school. The bonds have decreased in cost through refinancing and increases in property values, and are now estimated to cost $1.83 per $1,000 of assessed value. The new bonds would begin after the older ones expire in 2020, raising taxes to $2.83 per $1,000 of assessed property value.
Warrenton’s $38.5 million bond would fund the purchase of a new master campus out of the flood plain and tsunami inundation zone, while building a new middle school to relieve crowding at Warrenton Grade School. It would raise property taxes by an estimated $2.03 per $1,000 of assessed value.
Warrenton’s bond would be the first of three over the next 14 years to move all the district’s schools to higher ground. School leaders hope Warrenton’s increasing population and home prices will gradually lower the per capita tax burden on voters over time.
Morrow sees the Warrenton bond as an easier sell, between the visible overcrowding and the tsunami dangers. As a regional center of affordable housing, Warrenton grew from 4,100 people in 2000 to nearly 5,400 people last year, according to Portland State University researchers, and is expected to add another 2,000 residents by 2035.
Warrenton Grade School reached more than 800 students this year, one of the five most-populous K-8 campuses in the state, and has required six portable trailers to help house students.
“I think anyone that knows our school district and how well we’ve managed the school facilities, with the growth that Warrenton has had and will continue to have, Warrenton absolutely needs a new school,” Morrow said.
Still, Morrow has spoken with people who support moving schools to higher ground but will not back the bond because they are on fixed incomes and cannot afford any tax increase.
“That’s why we’re going for the smaller bonds and phased approach,” she said. “We couldn’t morally go out for a bond that our residents could not afford.”
The Warrenton-Hammond School District has scheduled a meeting for 7 p.m. Oct. 17 in the high school library to gather feedback and unveil conceptual plans for a new campus and middle school that would be funded by a $38.5 million bond in November.