Arlington School Board approves bond, levy ballot measures

Three measures, including one to replace Post Middle School, will appear on the February ballot.

ARLINGTON — The Arlington School Board has voted to put a bond issue, capital improvements levy and renewal of an operations levy on February’s special election ballot.

The measures would continue to collect taxes for staff, educational programs and operating expenses not covered by the state; tap short-term debt to pursue myriad school safety and security improvements; and place Post Middle School replacement as a stand-alone bond.

“The board is charged with providing the best possible education for Arlington students,” board president Kay Duskin said. “We believe these projects are critical to ensuring students can learn and succeed in a safe and comfortable learning environment.”

The district’s Facilities Advisory Committee recommended a $71.5 million bond to replace the aging Post Middle School that would be earthquake resistant, have interior hallways for security, larger classrooms to support STEM education and a fire sprinkler system. The total project cost would be $83 million, using $11.5 million from state school construction funds.

This is the district’s fourth bite at the apple to replace Post, which combined with a package of other school projects was approved by more than half the voters in previous elections but couldn’t muster the 60% supermajority.

A four-year capital levy will cover additional security and building improvements, including classroom door locks, more classroom space and a STEM workshop at Arlington High School, pedestrian safety at key schools and other improvements.

Executive director of operations Brian Lewis said respondents in community surveys suggested handling funding for Post separately from all the other projects.

The capital levy would cost property owners $1.15 per $1,000 of assessed value in 2021, $1.14 in 2022, $1.13 in 2023 and $1.15 in 2024, generating about $25 million.

Gina Zeutenhorst, executive director of financial services, gave the board two options for renewing the district’s four-year Educational Programs and Operations levy – a rate of $1.70 or $1.75 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The former would collect $8.9 million in 2021, $9.2 million in 2022, $9.5 million in 2023 and $9.7 million in 2024. The second option would have raised another $1.1 million. Residents are currently paying $1.50 per $1,000 assessed value.

The levy would pay for staffing, educational programs and operations expenses not funded by the state. These include instructional services and support, facility maintenance, technology, special education and extracurricular activities, and other educational programs and operations expenses.

School board members sided with the lesser of the two options; anything less risked putting budgets in the red.

“If the dollar seventy helps our predicted fund balance stay pretty level, and we can get by with that, it looks like a pretty sensible way to go,” board member Jeff Huleatt said.

Added board member Jim Weiss, “It keeps the district healthy, and as an organization it helps us to look out for the best interests of our employees and our students, and our taxpayers that fund and keep this education system going.”

The school board vote on Monday was unanimous.

District taxpayers are currently paying the combined tax rate of $2.83 per $1,000 assessed property value, which would edge to $2.85 with approval of the EP&O and capital projects levies.

The annual tax rate impact on a $300,000 home would be $207, school officials said.

The district’s cost to participate in the election is estimated at $40,000.

The election will be Feb. 11, 2020.

This story originally appeared in The Arlington Times, a sibling paper to the Herald.

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