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Published: Monday, April 21, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Everett schools seek to boost turnout to pass $259 million bond

EVERETT — In February, the Everett School District’s $259 million bond issue was defeated by less than two percentage points.
Of the 18,328 people who voted in the election, 58.13 percent voted to approve the bond issue, 1.87 percentage points short of the required 60 percent supermajority.
The Everett School Board decided to put the same issue to voters Tuesday. Ballots for the special election are required to be postmarked or returned to election drop boxes by 8 p.m. Tuesday.
School district officials say they hope that a second look will gain them enough additional votes for the bond issue to be approved. The measure’s construction projects include a new high school, a new elementary school and major improvements at North Middle School.
Nearly 72,000 ballots were sent to voters living within the school district’s boundaries.
Voters in the Everett School District participated at slightly lower rates in the February election than counterparts throughout Snohomish County, county elections manager Garth Fell said.
“County wide, our return was 28 percent in February,” he said, “and in the Everett School District, we were at 25.65 percent.”
Voters may have an extra incentive to participate this time. If the issue fails, it can’t go back on the ballot until 2015.
School officials say the bonds will be sold in such a way that it won’t increase taxes. They have posted detailed information on the Everett School District website.
Together, the taxes for the bond and a levy measure approved in February would cost taxpayers $6.55 per $1,000 in property valuation. The owner of a $250,000 home would pay $1,637.50 a year in school taxes.
Citizens Supporting the Levy for Everett Public Schools has been working to increase public support for the bond issue. It is led by Karen Madsen, a former Everett School Board member.
Phone teams have been urging people who haven’t voted to do so. A pro-bond issue website, Students Win, was also launched by the group.
School Board President Pam LeSesne said she feels the electorate is better informed about the bond issue this time. “The community said, ‘Tell us, explain to us what it is,’ ” she said. “We did a better job of doing that this time.”
Two major parts of the issue, a new high school and a new elementary school, would be built in response to growth in the south part of the district, LeSesne said.
The new high school would be in the 180th St. SE neighborhood. The options are building a new high school outright or converting Gateway Middle School to a high school and building a new middle school.
“We can’t really say where the boundaries will be for the new schools at this time,” she said. “We do know the growth in the south end, and that’s what we see as being able to accommodate that growth.”
LeSesne said she’s also heard a lot from adults and students about the need for a major upgrade at North Middle School, which opened in 1981. Renovations to classrooms as well as improvements in heating, air conditioning and the school’s roof are planned if the measure passes, she said.
Additional elementary school classrooms are needed to relieve overcrowding and comply with state requirements for smaller class sizes, from kindergarten through third grade, LeSesne said.
Class sizes in those early learning years will be reduced from a goal of not more than 25 students per classroom down to 17, she said. At least 40 more classrooms are needed.
“The population is growing here in Everett,” LeSesne said. “It’s important we continue to stand up for public schools.”
Based on the results of the February election, the election could be another squeaker. Nearly 42 percent of voters rejected the bond two months ago. Opponents continue to press their case against the bond issue in social media.
The Everett School Board Project, a watchdog group, is among those raising questions about the need for the construction money.
“I feel like we’re sending them a blank check,” said Kim Guymon, who founded the group. “I do think they’ll do most of these projects. I’m not sure they’ve given us good, solid estimates.”
Guymon said she also thinks that the district could have put off the vote until later in the year to give voters more time to consider it. “It comes down to trust and not having this rush to cram it through,” she said.
The group and some other citizens continue to question the need for the district’s new $28.3 million administration building, which opened in November. “That $28 million could have taken care of some of the problems at North Middle School,” Guymon said.
The new administration building replaced three aging and energy-inefficient structures. Some of the debate has centered on using $12.8 million of state matching funds, saved from previous school construction projects, to help pay for the project. Others question why the new building was never put up for a public vote.
Guymon said she agrees that the projects in the bond issue need to be done. “We also need to get a signal that attitudes have shifted to make sure our students really are put first,” she said.
Sharon Salyer:425-339-34586 or salyer@heraldnet.com
On the ballot
Voters in the Everett School District are asked to approve a $259 million bond issue in a special election, with ballots due Tuesday. Some of the projects being proposed:
$89 million for a new high school.
$37 million for a new elementary school.
$41 million for renovation and construction at North Middle School.
$22 million to upgrade Woodside Elementary School.
$21 million for technology upgrades throughout the school district.
$16.8 million for 40 additional elementary classrooms.
$13 million for renovation of Cascade High School’s science building.
$4.5 million for eight extra elementary classrooms (pending funding from the state for full-day kindergarten and other programs for kindergarten through third grade.)
$2.3 million for synthetic turf at Jackson and Cascade high schools.
Where to learn more
The Everett School District has information on the bond measure at www.everettsd.org/Page/15392.
Members of a citizens group, the Everett School Board Project, have posted comments on the bond issue at www.voteforeverettschools.com.
The website for a citizens group backing the bond issue, Citizens Supporting the Levy for Everett Public Schools, is at www.studentswin.org.
Story tags » EverettEverett School DistrictLocal elections

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