Everett School District floats bond again

EVERETT — Voters in the Everett School District are getting a second chance in two months to vote on a $259 million bond issue for new schools and other improvements.

The total spending on projects is identical to the bond issue voters narrowly turned down in February, which included plans for a new high school, a new elementary school and major improvements to North Middle School, among other projects.

Ballots must be mailed by April 22. Bond issues must receive a 60 percent yes vote to be approved.

One factor might increase interest in this election for both backers and detractors. If the bond issue fails to get the required 60 percent approval, the school district won’t be able to put it back on the ballot again in 2014.

Board member Caroline Mason said the bond issue’s February defeat served as a wake-up call. “People that support schools didn’t expect it to fail and maybe didn’t even fill out their ballots because of that,” she said.

“We weren’t very good about communicating the first time to voters what was included in this bond,” Mason said. “We learned that we need to do a better job.”

The school district has said that the two new schools proposed in the bond issue and additional classrooms are needed due to growth, to help reduce the need for portable classrooms and to reduce class sizes.

Mason said she doesn’t think people know that if it fails this time, there won’t be another opportunity to vote on the bond issue until next February.

Board member Ted Wenta was asked if the school board considered the risk of a second bond defeat when deciding when to put the bond measure back on the ballot. “There’s always that concern,” he said.

“We’re confident it will pass, but we don’t take community support for granted,” he said. “If it does fail, the need will not go away.”

Even if the bond issue passes, the school district has a long list of building and improvement needs, he said. The $259 million bond issue that will be decided by voters “is the best package we could put forth without raising people’s tax rates,” he said. “There’s still more than $100 million of unmet needs. That’s why this bond measure on April 22 is so important.”

One of the issues that has shadowed both bond proposals is the school district’s new $28.3 million administration building, which opened in November. While it replaced aging and energy-inefficient structures, it has become a popular target for some members of the public who question the school district’s priorities.

Kim Guymon, who founded The Everett School Board Project, a citizens watchdog group, said in an email that she still has trust issues with the school district stemming from the project.

Part of the money for the building came from state construction dollars, she said. “In my opinion, it wasn’t their right to save or use state construction assistance funds,” she said. “That money could have been used for kids,” Guymon said.

The biggest sources of money for the administration building were about $12.8 million of state matching funds saved from previous school construction projects and $11 million from rent, past property sales, interest and rebates from utilities grants.

School district officials have maintained that the new building replaced aging energy hogs.

There’s also been confusion about whether approval of the bonds would trigger a tax increase, since voters approved the school district’s levy in February.

School officials say the bonds will be sold in such a way that it won’t increase taxes and have posted detailed information on the Everett School District website.

Together, the taxes for the bond and levy measures would be $6.55 per $1,000 in property valuation, so the owner of a $250,000 home would be $1,637 in taxes.

Darla Contreras, a member of the Everett School Board Project, voted against the bond issue in February but said she has since changed her mind and will now support it. North Middle School, which would get a $41 million upgrade if the bond issue is approved, is not of the same quality as other schools in the district, she said. “It’s run-down. It has roof leaks. It has a small, antiquated-looking gym.”

And Woodside Elementary “is packed with portables,” she said.

Contreras said she has the same concerns she’s always had with the money spent on the district’s administration building. “I think the school district leadership bears watching, but I would say that’s true of any kind of public entity,” she said.

School district officials say that because some staff salaries are paid by bond money, there’s the potential some people could lose their jobs if the bond issue doesn’t pass.

Forty-four employees have all or a portion of their work funded by the capital bond, said Mary Waggoner, school district spokeswoman. Their jobs are either directly related to construction, construction planning or major improvements funded by capital bonds, she said.

If the bond doesn’t pass, five to 10 full-time-equivalent positions could be eliminated or would need to be funded in another way, she said.

Backers of the bond proposal have been much more public about their support this time than in the previous election. Fourteen former school board members signed a statement outlining why they think the bond issue deserves public support.

One of those former board members, Karen Madsen, is leading a committee called Citizens Supporting the Levy for Everett Public Schools, which launched a website for the upcoming election.

Madsen said that the group has spent about $30,000 supporting the school district’s bond and levy measures and has volunteers working at phone banks, writing postcards and putting up signs.

“The committee is just trying to get people to understand the importance of these issues for our students and getting out and voting this time,” she said.

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

On the ballot

Voters in the Everett School District will be asked to approve a $259 million bond issue in a special election on April 22. 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.

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 comments on the bond issue at www.facebook.com/groups/EverettSchoolBoardProject.

The website for a citizens group backing the bond issue, Citizens Supporting the Levy for Everett Public Schools, is at www.studentswin.org.

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