Everett School District likely to put bond on hold until 2016

EVERETT — Following voter rejection of the Everett School District’s $259 million bond issue twice this year, the school board likely will wait until 2016 to ask voters again.

After considering whether to put the issue to voters next spring or wait until 2016, it appears board members favor the later date. They discussed their options at a meeting last week.

Board member Ted Wenta said he thought the vote should occur in 2016. The bond issue’s failure will require some very hard financial choices, he said. “I think we’re in a new reality.” Communication with the community “needs to be longer, not shorter,” Wenta said.

Pam LeSesne, board president, said the board needs a lot more time to think through what construction projects and other improvements to include in the next bond issue. She said she supports waiting until 2016 or later.

The $259 million bond issue rejected in elections in February and April called for a number of improvements, including a new high school, a new elementary school and major improvements to North Middle School.

The longer the district waits to move ahead with building projects, the more expensive they’re likely to be, Wenta said.

The cost of a new elementary school, based on an inflation rate of 3.5 percent, could rise from $36.7 million to $39.3 million by 2018, said Mike Gunn, the district’s facilities director.

Board member Carol Andrews said she worried that delaying the bond issue, and the projects it would pay for, would result in more crowding.

“I’m a little frustrated,” she said. “We did a lot of community outreach with this last bond. I guess I’m not really knowing what will be different this time to change the outcome.”

The failure of the bond issue this year could result in elementary school boundary changes in the south and possibly the central parts of the district, as well as the potential for use of more portable classrooms, Gunn said.

The school district tries to give students and families about a year’s notice of any proposed boundary changes, he said.

The bond issue’s failure also means that more money for maintaining and heating the district’s buildings will have to come from the district’s general fund, reducing money for teachers and classroom support, Gunn said.

The bond failure will benefit property owners. The tax rate will drop by 33 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation next year, said Jeff Moore, the district’s finance director. For the owner of a $250,000 home, it’s an estimated savings of $82.50 next year.

This year, property owners are paying school district taxes of $5.97 per $1,000 in assessed property valuation.

The bond issue rejection has another consequence. The proposed synthetic turf upgrades and lighting projects to sports fields at Cascade and Jackson high schools will be put on hold.

“The fact that we’ve had two bonds not pass pushes out all our schedules,” Wenta said. “There’s a re-prioritization that needs to take place.”

Board member Caroline Mason said the upgrades to the fields were like other improvements that would have been paid for by the bond issue. “So like other projects in that bond that we’re not able to move forward with, I think it makes sense at this time to exclude that,” she said.

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

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