We write to express our strong support for the current $61 million bond proposal to renovate our elementary schools.

We believe strongly that our teachers are providing a quality education to children in all of our schools. But years without significant improvements have left half of our students attending 50- to 60-year-old schools that lack the physical spaces necessary to facilitate best practices in teaching and learning.

Since 1995, the city of Portland has secured state funding to fully rebuild three state-of-the-art schools (Ocean Avenue, East End and Hall) and provided significant renovations at Riverton. That leaves four remaining mainland schools – Longfellow, Lyseth, Presumpscot and Reiche – in need of upgrades.

Last year, the City Council created the School Facilities Task Force. For many months, the task force, made up of four city councilors and four Board of Education members, reviewed a proposed $70 million renovation plan.

The task force concluded that upgrades to these schools are badly needed and long overdue, and recommended a $61 million plan to renovate these four elementary schools over a period of six to 10 years.

There are no easy choices or solutions for addressing this issue, but here are the most important reasons why we are supporting this $61 million bond:

• It’s the right thing to do for our kids. While some improvements have occurred in these schools, they still need significant upgrades.

At Reiche, special education is taught in a utility room without windows. The open classroom concept creates noise problems so extreme that many students are forced to wear headphones to block out noise and help them focus on assignments. Longfellow has asbestos and isn’t Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant; some teaching there occurs in hallways.

At Presumpscot and Lyseth, we send students out to “temporary” modular classrooms that are nearing two decades old. In the winter, students as young as 6 have to put on their boots and jackets and walk outside to access the bathrooms in the main buildings.

These are not minor inconveniences; they are fundamentally inappropriate conditions for student learning, and they don’t exist in half our neighborhood schools. Addressing these needs is not an option. They must be done.

 State funding for these schools isn’t likely. Some have suggested we apply to the state to fund one or two of these schools. We have. The state has already rejected our applications to renovate these schools three times over the past 15 years and rejected us a fourth time in December when we appealed its decision.

If we know anything about the state process, it’s that it creates uncertainty. Uncertainty causes delay, and with construction costs rising 8 percent per year, delay is an expensive proposition if the state gives us the same answer again.

A better option is to seek state funding for schools that we can wait a little longer on, such as Casco Bay/PATHs and Portland High School, which will require significant upgrades, but not until later next decade.

 The cost of fixing the schools is manageable now, but it will escalate if we fail to act. Renovating our schools will have some impact on our city and school budgets. According to the city’s projections, the $61 million bond will increase taxes on an average home by $25 to $30 a year for each school as it is bonded over the next six to 10 years. That means a total cost for the average Portland household of $148 a year, but not until it’s fully phased in.

That’s not nothing, but if we continue to wait for these renovations, as we have for decades, costs will increase, and interest rates may be higher.

 It’s essential for Portland’s economic development and to retain a strong middle class. Ask real estate agents, and they’ll tell you that one of the most common questions they hear from potential homebuyers is “How are the schools?” Research shows that parents perceive older and less-well-maintained schools as academically inferior and less safe. Renovated schools will help keep young families in our city and attract new ones, allowing the city to continue to thrive.

 Bottom line, the voters should be able to decide. We’ve gone through an exhaustive process in developing what we believe is the best, most fiscally responsible approach to fixing our schools. But we trust the voters of Portland, and ultimately, we believe that you should have the final word on whether renovating our elementary schools is a priority for the community.