Every school year in Hermiston begins with the promise of new opportunities for our students and staff. New friendships are formed, new experiences pursued, and we set out to learn new ways to succeed together.
It’s the Hermiston way. We’re an inviting and inclusive community that believes in teamwork and cooperation. We’re at our best when we’re learning from one another, and our willingness to welcome everyone to the table has spurred extraordinary growth.
The school district benefits greatly from this culture as we get the opportunity to educate and mentor the thousands of students who walk through our doors each day. But this growth also creates the challenge of finding adequate space for everyone.
These are good problems for our community and our schools, but are problems nonetheless. Schools with overcrowded classrooms and congested campuses hinder the learning process, and as a district we’re always looking for ways to remove those obstacles.
When addressing these kinds of issues, the school district and board starts with a simple question: What is best for our students?
Studies show an elementary school is at its most effective with an enrollment of 600 or less. It creates a stronger sense of community, and the gymnasium, cafeteria and other communal spaces can be shared equitably. Our elementary schools are either right at or beyond that critical enrollment level now, and we’re feeling the strain. Each year we see an additional 50 students or more, and we know that pressure will only increase.
At the high school we need the capacity to provide not only traditional educational offerings but cutting-edge career and technical training. We simply don’t have the space in our current buildings to do that and have relied on modular classrooms as a short-term solution. But while making payments out of our general fund to cover their lease makes sense for short-term capacity demands, it doesn’t uphold our responsibility to wisely use taxpayer dollars long-term.
With those realities in mind, we moved on to the next question: How can we add classroom space while best serving the interests of the community and taxpayers?
We listened after voters rejected the previous school bond in 2017, and with the help of a citizens’ facility committee created a plan that will address our capacity needs while keeping the tax rate stable. We’ve also narrowed the scope of the bond to meet the requests of the community.
Financially, we’ve aggressively budgeted to pay off all pre-2008 bond debt so taxpayers will see a bill about $0.40 per $1,000 assessed value lower this fall. It’s our intention that this bond won’t affect that rate but will generate its revenue from the city’s growing tax base. We have had these numbers evaluated and certified by Piper Jaffray.
We’ve also removed some items from the previous bond. We are no longer asking to demolish and rebuild a larger Highland Hills Elementary, but instead would use the opportunity to redraw district boundaries and make the school’s enrollment fit its intended use. And we won’t use any portion of the bond on deferred maintenance — we’ve worked with each department to find savings to pay for all maintenance costs out of the general fund.
The final package includes two new elementary schools (one to replace Rocky Heights with a 600- student school and a new 600-student school on the district’s Theater Lane property), a large multi-classroom annex at the high school, minor site improvements at elementary schools to decrease congestion, and the purchase of additional property for future development. There is also a mandate in Measure 30-130 that the district will form a citizen review panel to make sure funds are spent only on intended purposes. And as a bonus, if local voters approve the bond, the state will supply a $6.6 million matching grant.
The Hermiston School District believes in being a good partner. Our role is not just providing superb education for our students, but also creating a desirable workplace for our teachers and staff and a stronger community through state-of-the-art facilities, athletic fields and campus grounds. Hermiston is a great place to live, work, and raise a family, and we’re glad to be a part of it.
Tricia Mooney is the superintendent of the Hermiston School District.