Everett schools seek $259M for new schools, remodels

EVERETT — A new high school. A new elementary school. And $41 million in improvements at North Middle School. These are three of the biggest construction projects included in the Everett School District’s $259 million bond issue, which voters will decide on Feb. 11.

The school district says there are good reasons these were selected for funding though the 20-year bonds.

Two of the district’s high schools — Jackson and Cascade — are above capacity. Projected growth and a drive for smaller class sizes for the district’s youngest students are behind the need for a new elementary school. And North Middle School, which opened in 1981 and has more than three decades of wear and tear, is in need of a major renovation, district officials say.

Mail-in ballots, which were sent to registered voters in the Everett district last week, actually have two money issues listed: the capital-improvement bond measure and a measure for the regular renewal of the district’s maintenance and operations levy.

If both the bond and levy measures are approved, property owners would pay $6.55 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The owner of a $250,000 home would pay $1,637 per year in taxes for schools. Of that, a little more than half — $3.54 per $1,000 in valuation — would go toward the regular levy’s renewal and $3.01 per $1,000 in valuation would cover the capital-improvement bonds.

Everett school officials say the levy provides 23 percent of the school district’s $203 million operating budget and needs to be continued to cover staff salaries, textbooks and classroom programs.

The construction projects are needed to keep up with projected enrollment growth, said Pam LeSesne, the school board president. The district estimates today’s enrollment of 18,743 students could rise to 20,178 by 2022.

The Feb. 11 election follows several years of headlines about controversy and change, including two school-board resignations, which might affect voter attitudes:

Jessica Olson, a former school board member, resigned earlier this month with two years remaining on her term. She often questioned and sometimes clashed with fellow board members and the school district administration.

About a month before Olson quit, board member Jeff Russell resigned, citing personal reasons. Russell’s seat this month was filled with the appointment of Caroline Mason. The board is in the middle of the process for appointing someone to Olson’s seat.

And then there’s 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 handy target for some members of the public who question the school district’s priorities.

If approved, the district says, the bond and levy measures would continue tax levels at the current rate.

For Kim Guymon, who ran unsuccessfully for a school board seat last fall, that’s the problem. “They act like we should accept this level of taxation,” she said. “It’s OK because we’re already paying it.”

She also questions whether the projected growth in the district will occur fast enough to justify a new $89 million high school.

Two high schools now have more than the 1,500 students the school district says is optimal — Cascade with 1,784 students and Jackson with 2,005.

“You can only go so far with portables,” LeSesne said. Projections in student enrollment show a need for a new high school to be built by 2018. It would accommodate 750 students in the first phase and eventually build out to accommodate up to 1,500 students she said.

Everett High School is somewhat under capacity, with an enrollment of 1,343 students. Guymon wondered if an International Baccalaureate program with a rigorous, college-prep curriculum, could be launched there to attract more students and delay the need for a new high school.

While that high school is under capacity, “would families want school boundaries to be moved?” asked Mary Waggoner, the school district’s spokeswoman. Busing students to Everett High School would add to the district’s operating costs, she said. “That takes away money that otherwise could be used in the classroom.”

Despite her questions on the bond and levy issues, Guymon said she doesn’t want to be labeled as leading the “no” campaign. “I just want you to be able to justify why you voted,” she said. “An informed vote, please.”

LeSesne said that both the levy and the bond money will be used to continue the district’s focus on student learning. “The community has been very supportive of the school district in the past,” she said. “They’ve seen what we’ve done over years and years.”

“It’s vital to continue to focus on keeping our buildings top-notch, ensuring our educational programs are second to none and our kids will be prepared for anything that comes their way,” LeSesne said.

Only a handful of people have publicly announced opposition to the bond issue. But the new administration building is one of the main reasons one mom says she’s going to break her string of 20 years of steadfast support for the district’s bond issues.

“I felt like giving the district everything they said they needed to make good education happen,” said Darla Contreras, a single mom with five children who lives near Cascade High School. After supporting the last bond issue in 2006, Contreras said, she feels the district “went around me” by deciding to build the new administration building.

Contreras said she believes that if the proposal for the new building had been put up for a public vote, it wouldn’t have been approved. “All the money spent on that building,” she said. “It’s not right.”

A series of community meetings was held in 2008 to discuss plans for the administration building’s construction. Those plans were scuttled in 2009 because of the economic recession. In 2011, the school board decided to move ahead with the project, bundling it with a vote on plans to build new tracks at Cascade and Jackson high schools.

The district’s administrative offices previously were scattered among three sites, including a Colby Avenue building designed in 1964 and the Longfellow building on Oakes Avenue. The former elementary school was built in 1911 and converted to an office building in 1970. School district data show energy costs per square foot for the Colby and Oakes buildings exceeded those of any of the district’s schools.

The biggest sources of money for the administration building project 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.

Sharon Salyer: 4125-339 3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com

Bond details

Voters in the Everett School District will be asked to approve a $259 million bond issue in a special election on Feb. 11. Some of the projects being proposed are:

$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.

$13 million for renovation of Cascade High School’s science building

$10 million for adding 19 first-, second- and third-grade classrooms

$2.3 million for synthetic turf fields at Jackson and Cascade high schools

For details on the bond measure, go to www.everettsd.org.

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