About a dozen parents spoke at the Portland school board meeting Tuesday, most urging support for a proposed $70 million bond to renovate four of the city’s elementary schools. A handful, however, worried that it would raise taxes too much and possibly drive people out of town.

“We really need good schools,” said Elise Devon, who has a fourth-grader at Reiche Elementary School. “You need to push it through to the City Council, and let Portland make the decision.”

Officials hope to put a bond before voters in November. On Tuesday, the school board had a public hearing and first reading on recommending the $70 million bond figure to the City Council, which has final say over whether to send a bond to voters, and at what amount.

The board will hold another public hearing and a final vote June 21.

If voters approve a $70 million bond, the city would be authorized to issue a series of bonds up to that amount to pay for projects at Lyseth, Presumpscot, Reiche and Longfellow elementary schools. Those bonds, paid off over 30 years, would likely be staggered, and taxpayers would see annual increases in the school portion of their tax bill to pay for the debt service.

The district’s chief financial officer has estimated that a $70 million bond would result in annual tax rate increases of between 5 percent and 6 percent for the first five years, or between $115 and $148 a year for a property with an assessed value of $225,000. In subsequent years the annual increases would start to get smaller.

The cumulative effect on a $225,000 property over the initial five-year period would result in the owners paying an extra $670.50 by the fifth year, according to the estimate.

TAX IMPACT, COUNCIL VIEWS

Some parents said Tuesday they worried that would be too much.

“(People) are already facing unaffordable tax rates,” said Longfellow parent Kate O’Brien, who urged the board to seek more state funding or stagger the projects to ease the impact on taxpayers.

Another Longfellow parent, Lee Ann McLoughlin, said she would support $35 million in bonds for “necessary and practical” repairs, but questioned whether, for example, Longfellow needed an elevator. Another person questioned why the plans call for two other schools to have second floors added to the existing building.

“It think that great, new, state-of-the-art schools might attract people. But it might also raise taxes so much that it makes other people have to leave,” McLoughlin said.

Most members of the school board have said in previous meetings that they strongly support the $70 million proposal.

Early comments from Mayor Ethan Strimling and a city councilor this week indicate there will be a vigorous conversation once it gets to the council.

“I expect, and I think school board members expect, the council is probably not going to sign off on a $70 million package,” said City Councilor Justin Costa, who previously served on the school board.

“It’s an issue that the council certainly isn’t in any kind of agreement on at this point,” he said. “We’re looking to see what the school (board) recommends to us. My hope is that we have a real conversation about what the city is able to support financially and come to a decision on this.”

Strimling thinks council members realize the elementary schools need a significant investment.

“Everybody recognizes we need to do work on the elementary schools,” he said Monday. “What I have said to the board is, send us the number that we need to provide the best education for our kids, that our kids deserve, not a penny more and not a penny less. Then let us figure out what we can afford.”

LOTS OF STUDIES, LONG WAIT

Over the past 20 years, the district has formed multiple task forces and hired multiple architectural firms regarding upgrades to the elementary schools. In that time, Portland used state funding to build the East End Community School in 2006 and the Ocean Avenue Elementary School in 2011.

In April, Portland voters approved a plan to pay for a new Hall Elementary School. The state will pay for almost all of the $29.7 million project, with Portland taxpayers picking up $1.4 million for specific upgrades such as a larger gym that can serve as a community center.

On Tuesday, parents handed out fliers at Longfellow, urging parents to write officials in support of the plan.

“It’s a steep climb to get this done and finally break the cycle of inaction and neglect. We need to stand together for our youngest students. Let’s. Get. This. Done,” the flier said.

“The state of (the schools) are simply unacceptable,” Aura Russell-Bedder, a Presumpscot parent, told the board Tuesday. “I don’t think we can wait any longer. There has been so much hemming and hawing about this. We need you to bring this unified message to the council: It’s time to fully fund these renovations.”

BREAKING DOWN COSTS BY SCHOOL

A group of Portland parents known as Protect Our Neighborhood Schools has been advocating for a borrowing package to pay for the renovations. The four schools have not had significant investments since they were built 40 to 60 years ago.

At Reiche, a leaky roof means staff have used blue tarps to protect library books; bricks are falling off Longfellow Elementary School; three portable classrooms, which lack plumbing, have been used for second-, third- and fourth-graders at Presumpscot Elementary School since 2006; and one portable classroom is being used at Lyseth Elementary School.

All of the schools need additional security, storage and work spaces for students and teachers, and need upgrades to electrical and mechanical systems, as well as weatherization and accessibility, according to the 2012 comprehensive study of the schools that was updated this year.

The $70 million figure – selected over less-costly options – is the result of the most recent update of the “Buildings for Our Future” report, by Oak Point Associates architecture and engineering firm and available at the Portland Public Schools website. According to the report, the breakdown of costs and some building-specific projects are:

• Lyseth: ($20.2 million, 500 students) Add second floor, improve driveway and parking lot, steam line upgrades, stormwater repairs.

• Reiche: ($17.9 million, 400 students) Reconfigure interior space, replace roof, rebuild library and stairs.

• Longfellow: ($16.4 million, 340 students) Add elevator to make second floor ADA compliant, replace roof, remove asbestos, update electric, replace windows, repoint masonry.

• Presumpscot: ($16.1 million, 300 students) Add second floor, improve parking lot, repair athletic field.

A breakdown of cost estimates, such as a list of building-specific recommendations and the associated cost projection, is not available.

“The detailed cost estimates will be developed once the projects are approved and construction plans are developed,” district Deputy Chief Operations Officer Craig Worth said in an email Tuesday.

Strimling said the funding is needed to make these schools more equitable.

“This is not tweaking around the edges,” he said, noting improvements that would add new pre-K classroom space and gymnasiums and make buildings compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“We want people to move to Portland because we have the best schools in the state,” he said.


Correction: This story was revised at 3:18 p.m.., June 8, 2016, to reflect the correct spelling of Aura Russell-Bedder’s name.