Help wanted: Students for bond campaign

Campaigning to pass Portland Public Schools’ modernization bond this May is well underway, with only 33 days until ballots are mailed.

Leading the effort is veteran campaign manager Jeremy Wright. Wright began his career as a campaign manager in 1998, leading the campaign to institute vote-by-mail in Oregon. He has since helped elect Secretary of State Bill Bradbury and bring the Major League Soccer to Portland.

He worked with PPS in the past, helping to pass a renewal of a levy in 2014, which funds teacher salaries. In 2015 and 2016, he successfully campaigned for school rebuild bonds in areas where they had historically failed: the Reynolds and Gresham-Barlow school districts, respectively.

Wright was the only political consultant who applied to run this year’s campaign. He acknowledged that it will be a tough operation, but says he took the role because he has a personal interest in the outcome.

“I have two little kids who will be going to PPS, and my neighbors and community members send their kids to local schools, so it is a very personal stake,” he said.

As campaign manager, he oversees six employees doing a wide variety of tasks, including “fundraising, literature, messaging, communications, volunteer coordination, social media, financial management.”

Assisting him is Outreach Coordinator Aaron Brown. Brown’s job is to gain endorsements from community organizations, from neighborhood associations to soccer teams, which might persuade  voters affiliated with those organizations to vote yes. Brown emphasized that he has worked with high schoolers in the past at the Oregon Bus Project, which organizes young people for advocacy work, especially voter registration.

Wright’s campaign messaging is based around four pillars: healthy – which notes that the bond will mitigate health hazards like lead and radon in all of the district’s schools; modern – which the four rebuild or renovated schools will be; safe – referring to seismic and fire safety upgrades; and efficient – as the new buildings will be more energy-efficient. Campaign leaders hope these four concepts will resonate with voters, especially the 80 percent of expected electorate that does not have children in PPS schools.

Students hoping to persuade adult voters should also emphasize the fact that the upgrades will improve graduation rates and quality of life for the entire community, Wright said at a meeting on March 7.

For voters who object to the cost, mentioning the financial benefit for the community businesses can help, Wright said, and voters who worry about PPS’ ability to use the money effectively might be convinced by talking about the successes of the 2012 modernization bond, which rebuilt Grant, Roosevelt and Franklin high schools on time and on budget.

The campaign managers are looking for both students and adults to volunteer. Opportunities include putting up a lawn sign, making phone calls, canvassing neighborhoods, writing letters and assisting in the campaign office. Sign up is on www.healthyschoolspdx.org.

Wright said it is especially important for students to participate.

“[They] are the best messengers. They can tell the story better than anyone else. And since current students won’t even be there to take advantage of the new school, it’s a very powerful message– they just want to see the community and school improve. “

Spearheading student efforts to pass the bond is sophomore Raja Moreno, who has created a PAC called SHOVELS, or Students Helping Organize Votes to Enhance Learning Spaces. He is focusing on student action because he believes they have the most “potent” message.

“The ‘I can’t vote, but you can’ message evokes sense of fairness for adults,” he said.

Lincoln parent Kate Swindell, who is a consultant to the campaign, agrees.

“Students are a powerful reminder that this is their world, too. Each generation owes the next one the capability to learn, grow and flourish in schools that are safe, modern, functioning and relevant to the learning standards of the day.”

She harkened back to the Lincoln walkout in September, which “showed the city and the decision makers that their schools and their education matters to them.”

Opportunities to volunteer with or donate to SHOVELS are available on www.shovelspdx.org.

More information about volunteering will be announced on the Healthy Schools’ social media pages in the coming weeks. A launch party is scheduled for March 22, after this edition goes to print. Campaigning will continue until the final day, Wright said, as he will receive reports on who has cast their votes and who has yet to during the 20 days ballots come in.

“They’ll be a lot of opportunities to help,” he said. “This campaign will be won with knocking on doors, phone calls, going to meetings, and spreading the word on social media.”

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