When Everett voters in February passed the school district’s operating levy, but rejected the bond proposal, which requires a 60 percent approval vote, they were sending a clear message. Not enough voters were convinced that the district had made a case for the need of a $259 million bond issue to build a new high school, a new elementary school and make improvements at North Middle School and Woodside Elementary School, among other projects.
Initially, the school district and school board said they wanted to hear from the community about why the bond was rejected. However, they quickly interpreted the loss as a case of not enough pro-bond voters bothering to vote. And so they put the very same $259 million bond back on the ballot in April.
The second bond vote did bring a few more voters, but just as the bond remained the same, the outcome was also nearly identical: In February, the yes vote was 10,654, or 58.13 percent; 7,674 or 41.87 percent voted no. (A total of 18,328 voters.) In April, 19,892 people voted, which broke down to 11,663 or 58.63 percent voting yes, and 8,229 or 41.37 percent voting no.
With 73,606 registered voters in the Everett School District boundaries, it’s easy to understand why the district thought more people would come forward to vote. But they did not. Of those who did vote, the message was the same. The rejection reflects that enough people don’t trust the district with such a large bond, especially when it comes to awarding construction contracts, building cost estimates, and non-specific language about “other improvements” or “other projects.”
So what now? This editorial board endorsed the April measure, as it did in February. But the voters have spoken, and it’s time to go back to the drawing board. The district can’t come back with another ballot measure this year, which is a good thing. It gives the district time to come back with a whittled down bond, with reordered priorities. For example, despite some cases of overcrowding, the remodeling and renovation of existing buildings is a bigger priority than building a new high school. The use of portables (modular buildings, not “trailers”) are a smart option to building new because school districts experience population ebbs and flows. After similar bond failures, the Snoqualmie Valley School District has found great success with the use of portables.
The district needs to show it is listening to voters, even, (or especially,) if they are in the “minority,” but bother to actually vote. A revamped bond in another year will be the chance to do just that.