Oregon community colleges among election night winners as voters decide bond measures
The biggest bond on the ballot Tuesday — a $723 million bond for one of Oregon’s largest school districts passed with a comfortable margin based on returns released Wednesday. The successful campaign to pass the Beaverton School District bond means major capital projects – including the reconstruction of Beaverton High School and Raleigh Hills Elementary School – now have the funding they need .
But across the state, bond results have been mixed, with nine-figure moves to improve school buildings in Roseburg and Morrow County failing by double-digit margins.
The news for higher education was good. At a time of economic uncertainty in Oregon, as higher education leaders considered tuition hikes to address declining enrollment, the two Oregon colleges that have requested money to voters this spring got positive responses. Tillamook Bay Community College and Linn-Benton Community College saw their communities contest primary elections Tuesday night to pass multimillion-dollar bond measures.
In parts of Oregon, community colleges have struggled to pass the mandatory measures. Mt. Hood Community College in eastern Multnomah County repeatedly put bonds on the ballot, only to see voters reject them. But in recent years, community colleges have seen increasing success. After a failed bond in 2011, Clackamas Community College gained approval in 2014. A year later, Blue Mountain Community College passed a $23 million bond, followed in 2016 by Rogue Community College that passed a $20 million bond.
On the North Shore this week, voters passed a nearly $15 million bond for Tillamook Bay Community College. The money will help build the college’s new health care education building and a home for its first-ever nursing program. TBCC is currently the only community college in the state without a nursing program.
“We are so grateful,” TBCC President Ross Tomlin told the OPB. “We know that historically bonds have been very difficult to pass in rural areas, particularly rural areas on the coast, so whenever that happens – especially on our first try – we just think it’s is a testament to the strong relationships in our county with industry, business and organizations.
In lieu of its own nursing program, the college currently contracts with Oregon Coast Community College, allowing its students to take online nursing courses and clinical rotations in Tillamook and of Lincoln.
“It involves a lot of travel and a lot of inconvenience for our students, so our goal for the past few years has been to start our own nursing program and develop our own nurses here, so to speak, here in Tillamook County where there is has a huge need for [registered nurses] just like it’s everywhere,” Tomlin said. “It will give us the ability to do that.”
Tomlin said the new building will also house a community events center that can be used by organizations and groups throughout the county, as well as for college graduation ceremonies.
Like Tillamook Bay, the Linn-Benton Community College link focuses on building facilities to support career programs for students.
Part of Linn-Benton’s $16 million bond will help build an agricultural education center to train students for careers related to agriculture, animal science, and crop and soil science, according to middle School. The money will also help launch a veterinary technology program within this new center.
“There is no doubt that this is a difficult time to seek public funding,” LBCC President Lisa Avery said in a statement to the OPB, “but voter endorsement of this measure affirms a commitment to our mission to provide “education for all” in Linn and Benton counties.
Apart from the new center, the bond will help the college update and repair existing facilities. It will also support renovations to its daycare center on its main campus in Albany used by students and staff.
“Rest assured that we will do everything we can to ensure that these hard-earned taxpayer dollars are spent in the most efficient and beneficial way possible,” Avery said.
None of the community college obligations will require a huge financial investment from taxpayers. The new bond will cost Tillamook County homeowners about $0.19 per $1,000 of assessed property value for a 20-year term, according to the college. That’s about $4 a month for someone who owns a property worth $250,000.
The Linn-Benton bond will increase the property tax rate in the region by $0.07 per $1,000 of assessed value. The college estimates it will cost the average homeowner about $2 more per month.
These bonds come at a time when Oregon businesses and industries are struggling to recover from the final years of the pandemic, resulting in a critical need for more skilled workers.
It’s also a critical time for community colleges themselves, as they faced a more than 20% drop in enrollment last fall from pre-pandemic numbers.
In addition to local support for community colleges through bond endorsements, colleges have received some state support with the Future Ready Oregon package – a $200 million investment in workforce development work, including money directly to community colleges to improve and innovate job-training programs.