Everett school bond issue may be revisited

EVERETT — Voters in the Everett School District are likely to get another request to approve a bond issue this year, but for how much and when are still in question.

On Feb. 11, the electorate did not approve a $259 million bond issue for building and technology improvements. The district’s five school board members now are debating whether to ask voters to approve the same package or to tweak the proposal in some way.

The results of the election won’t be official until Tuesday, but the measure fell short of the 60 percent yes votes required. Just over 58 percent of 18,246 voters who marked ballots approved of the measure.

During a work session Wednesday evening, school board member Caroline Mason said she thought the economy played a role in the bond issue’s defeat. “People are feeling the pinch more,” she said.

Mason said she also thought that critics of the bond proposal often said their opposition was due in part to the district’s new $28.3 million administration building, which opened in November.

While it replaced aging and energy-inefficient structures, it has become a target for some to question the school district’s priorities.

“There’s a lot of misunderstanding out there,” Mason said. “I think we haven’t found a way to clear those misconceptions yet.” For the bond issue to pass, “it’s going to take a very different approach than we did last time,” she said.

School board members said that the need for new schools to relieve overcrowding is apparent, especially in the school district’s south end, because of the amount of development occurring there.

Woodside Elementary School, the largest in the district, has 738 students. Some classes spill over into eight portable classrooms.

It is one of the district’s five elementary schools that is over-capacity by 300 students. The others are Cedarwood, Silver Lake, Mill Creek and Emerson.

School board member Traci Mitchell said she was concerned about the use of portable classrooms at the district’s schools. “At what point do we have to send kids away from their neighborhood schools if we don’t get this started,” she said.

The school district’s current enrollment of 18,820 is expected to grow over the next decade to perhaps 20,478 students.

The number of high school students is projected to grow over the next 10 years by 707 students, according to Mike Gunn, the school district’s facilities director.

That’s why the school district included plans for a new high school, estimated to cost $89 million, in the bond issue. It would accommodate 750 students in the first phase and eventually be built out to accommodate up to 1,500 students.

It was the single-most-expensive project proposed in the bond issue, which included a major upgrade to North Middle School and a new elementary school.

If a new high school isn’t built, Gunn said, an estimated 25 classrooms would have to be added over the next decade at Jackson High School, and five would have to be added at Cascade.

Adding that many classrooms at Jackson would put high demand on areas such as the library, offices, gym and cafeteria, as well as present problems with parking and busing, he said.

The school currently has 2,038 students. “Imagine another 400 to 500 kids at that school,” Gunn said.

School officials noted that in 1996, a bond issued failed in February but was approved just two months later in April.

School board member Ted Wenta said it would be helpful to know how other school districts have gone back to the voters fairly quickly after a bond-issue defeat with another proposal that passed.

Wenta said he would like to know if such districts changed their message to voters or if the amount of money requested in the bond issue was changed.

School board members are expected to discuss when to go back to voters with another bond issue attempt next week. To get the measure on the April 22 special election ballot, the school board would have to approve a resolution by March 7.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

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