My mother’s voice, interrupting our heated quarrel, admonishes my brother and me to “take a breath and work it out.”
She isn’t just trying to bring down the noise level; she is teaching us the art and skill of dialing it back – to really listen, to truly hear each other.
I am forever grateful for this early lesson in navigating relationships with family, friends and community.
The current debate over bonds to renovate Portland’s elementary schools is an appropriate opportunity to invoke this “stop and listen” approach.
One deep breath is all it takes to see that there is unanimous agreement on the City Council about what needs to be done and in what time frame. Nine councilors are committing to an eight-year renovation plan for Longfellow, Lyseth, Presumpscot and Reiche elementary schools.
Nine councilors understand and agree that when we invest in our kids and our schools, we are investing in a stronger city and a brighter future for Portland.
So, despite the confusing and high-intensity rhetoric, the question before us is not “if” or “why” we should renovate four schools in eight years, but “how” we achieve that shared goal.
How do we minimize the load for Portland taxpayers and maximize the buying power of local dollars?
And how do we best achieve the longer term need for achieving similar updated and high-quality learning environments in our middle and high schools?
Let’s take that deep breath as we move toward a hearing and debate next week. We have a responsibility to fully review all proposals.
The “local dollars only” proposal would ask Portland voters to approve the sale of $64 million in municipal bonds and pay back those bonds by raising the local property tax.
The price tag for this approach would be $92 million over 20 years. The “local dollars only” approach would void Portland’s eligibility to draw down state funds for any part of the costs of renovating these four schools.
The “2+2” proposal would renovate the same four schools in the same 8-year time frame (2018-2026), but it would allow for the possibility that up to $32 million in state funding could replace local bonding and reduce the subsequent increase in property taxes.
This option would request voter approval for the sale of an initial $32 million in municipal bonds. And, instead of funding the entire price tag with local bonds, the “2+2” proposal would include application for $32 million in state funding for the remaining two schools.
State funding awards will be announced by November 2018. If state funds are not secured for the full $32 million, the “2+2” approach calls for a return to the voters with a second local bond that would fund the balance needed to complete the four school renovations within the eight year time frame.
The price tag for the “2+2” approach would be the first bond for $32 million over 20 years plus interest, plus an additional $17 million to do one school or $32 million if both schools fail to survive the state process.
Under the “2+2,” we do our due diligence to pursue all opportunities for funding outside of municipal bonding and property tax increases. It gives us flexibility, the potential to minimize cost, and the opportunity to save local resources that can be used to fund future infrastructure needs in our middle and high schools.
We all want to live in an affordable city – a place where people from everywhere and every background make up a caring community – where kids can get a great education and a strong start on building successful lives. We want people living here to stay, and we want new people to join us.
Not every story has to have a bad guy. This isn’t Hollywood and it isn’t hyper-partisan Washington, D.C. We’re not filming a modern-day Western or battling the tobacco industry.
We’re Maine people who care about our kids and our communities. My hope for the next few days is that we really listen to each other.
Let’s not make this an “all or nothing” choice with “winners” and “losers” and a community left divided. Let’s focus on what’s important: safe schools for our kids and affordability for our residents.
And let’s go back to what we do best in Portland: finding collaborative and ingenious solutions to problems, helping our neighbors, and making wise use of resources to invest in our children and make our city stronger.