ATHENA — School board members say they are going to try for a $4 million capital-improvements grant available for the first time from the state. 

If the grant is awarded, voters in the Athena-Weston School District will be asked to support a matching $4 million, 10-year bond in the May primary election, according to interim Superintendent Jim Reger.

The bond measure must pass for the district to receive Oregon’s matching funds; that would give the district $8 million total to spend on safety improvements, building renovations, a new bus, and other needs. 

If the bond failed, however, the district would miss out not only on taxpayer support but would also not receive any of the extra state funds. 

The board will learn later this month or in early February whether the district was selected for a matching grant.

Oregon will distribute $123 million over the next two years to schools, with 60 percent to schools based on poverty rates. The remaining 40 percent will be allotted in a kind of first-come, first-served lottery. 

The Athena-Weston School District ranks 73 out of 197 in the state for poverty level, Reger said.

The district can hold off on placing a bond measure on the May ballot if the state denies its application in this first round of requests. The state will take another batch of requests in November.

“But it’s a gamble,” Reger said Thursday. If denied now, the district can apply again in the fall, but that would prohibit the district from placing a bond measure on the May ballot. That, too, would have to wait until the general election in November. 

If the board went ahead with a bond measure on the May ballot and the measure passed after being denied in this first round of state grant awards, Reger said, the district would forfeit its opportunity for ever receiving the state grant.

A third and final opportunity to apply for the state grant is in May 2017. However, after this first batch of awards, the amount of money available decreases significantly, from $61.5 million available now to $30.75 million available at both the November and May 2017 deadlines.

“Plus, waiting until then to try and pass a bond is risky,” Reger said. “It means the work we need to get done would have to wait for another year.”

For the last 10 years, taxpayers in the district have paid $1.01 per $1,000 of assessed property value toward a $2 million school bond. That bond will be paid off in June, Reger said. 

If the district passed a $4 million replacement bond, taxes would increase just 44 cents from what property owners are paying now – for a total of $1.45 per $1,000. 

The district is also not locked into a $4 million bond. That is the total the state will match, but any time before submitting paperwork to the elections office in March, the school board could decide to decrease the bond request, Reger said.

Dian Ver Valen can be reached at dianvervalen@wwub.com or 526-8363 or 509-956-8312.

Dian is editor of the Union-Bulletin and Lifestyles magazine. She received her bachelor's in journalism from Western Washington University in 2003. She received her master's in communication and leadership from Gonzaga.