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Oregon community colleges among the Election Night winners, as voters decide bond measures

Linn-Benton Community College
Karen Richards

The biggest bond on the ballot Tuesday — a $723 million bond for one of Oregon’s largest school districts was passed by a comfortable margin based on returns published Wednesday. The successful campaign to pass the Beaverton School District’s bond means large capital projects — including rebuilds of Beaverton High School and Raleigh Hills Elementary School — now have the funding they need.

But across the state, bond results were mixed, with nine-figure measures 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, with higher education leaders weighing tuition hikes to deal with declining enrollment, the two Oregon colleges that asked voters for money this spring came away with positive answers. Tillamook Bay Community College and Linn-Benton Community College saw their communities turn out for the primary election Tuesday night to pass multi-million dollar bond measures.

In some parts of Oregon, community colleges have struggled to get bond measures to pass. Mt. Hood Community College in east Multnomah County has repeatedly put bonds on the ballot, only to see voters reject them. But in recent years, community colleges have seen growing success. After a bond failed in 2011, Clackamas Community College won approval in 2014. A year later, Blue Mountain Community College passed a $23 million bond, followed in 2016 by Rogue Community College passing a $20 million bond.

On the North Coast this week, voters passed a nearly $15 million bond for Tillamook Bay Community College. That money will help build the college’s new healthcare 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’re just so appreciative,” TBCC President Ross Tomlin told OPB. “We know that historically bonds have been very hard to pass in rural areas, especially rural areas on the coast, so any time we can have that happen — especially on our first try — we just feel it’s a testament to the strong relationships in our county with industry, companies and organizations.”

In lieu of its own nursing program, the college currently contracts with Oregon Coast Community College, having its students take nursing courses online and perform clinical rotations in both Tillamook and Lincoln counties.

“It involves a lot of travel and just a lot of inconvenience for our students, so it’s been our goal for the last couple of years to start our own nursing program and grow our own nurses here, so to speak, here in Tillamook County where there’s a huge need for [registered nurses] just like there is everywhere,” Tomlin said. “This will give us the ability to do that.”

Tomlin said the new building will also house a community event center that can be used by organizations and groups throughout the county, as well as for the college’s own graduation ceremonies.

Like Tillamook Bay, Linn-Benton Community College’s bond is focused on building facilities to support career programs for students.

Part of Linn-Benton’s $16 million bond will help construct an agriculture education center to train students for careers related to agriculture, animal science and crop and soil science, according to the college. The money will also help launch a veterinary tech program within that new center.

“There’s no question that this is a tough time to ask for public funding,” LBCC President Lisa Avery said in a statement to OPB, “but the voters’ approval of this measure affirms a commitment to our mission of providing ‘Education for All’ in Linn and Benton Counties.”

Outside of the new center, the bond will help the college with updates and repairs to existing facilities. It will also support renovations to its childcare center at its main campus in Albany used by students and staff.

“Please be assured that we will do everything possible to guarantee these hard-earned tax dollars are spent in the most cost-effective, beneficial way possible,” Avery said.

Neither of the community college bonds will require a huge financial investment from individual taxpayers. The new bond will cost homeowners in Tillamook County an estimated $0.19 per $1,000 of assessed property value for a 20-year duration, according to the college. That adds up to about $4 per month for someone with a property worth $250,000.

The Linn-Benton bond will increase the property tax rate in the area by $0.07 per $1,000 of assessed value. The college estimates that will result in costing the average homeowner about $2 more per month.

These bonds are passing at a time when Oregon’s businesses and industries are pushing to recover from the past few years of the pandemic, resulting in a critical need for more qualified workers.

It’s also a critical time for the community colleges themselves as they’ve faced more than a 20% drop in enrollment this past fall compared with numbers before the pandemic.

Along with local support to the community colleges through bond approvals, the colleges have received some support from the state with the Future Ready Oregon package — a $200 million investment into workforce development, including money directly to the community colleges to improve and innovate career training programs.

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Meerah Powell, Rob Manning