In 3rd try, Arlington schools propose a leaner bond measure

Tuesday’s special ballot asks for up to $96 million. Earlier proposals sought $107.5 million.

ARLINGTON — Voters in the Arlington School District will see a familiar item on their ballot for Tuesday’s special election — a bond measure to pay for school construction and better security.

The proposed bond seeks up to $96 million.

After two failed attempts at passing bonds last year, school officials shaved $11.5 million and several projects off the earlier proposal of $107.5 million.

The February and November 2018 packages reached 55 and 52 percent approval. That’s short of the 60 percent supermajority required by state law.

The new measure would allow the district to tear down the existing Post Middle School and replace it with a $75 million building, said Brian Lewis, the executive director of operations. It also could fund about $10 million in additions to Arlington High School and improve security throughout the district.

“We hope voters have enough confidence in us to reach that 60 percent,” Lewis said.

The bond will be repaid from property taxes over 21 years. The district estimates the cost to property owners at $1.42 per $1,000 of assessed value, or $426 per year for a $300,000 home.

Funds to purchase land for a fifth elementary school, which were included in the original bond, have been nixed.

The district conducted a phone survey in May to assess why the earlier bond failed. About 150 people participated, Lewis said.

They indicated they didn’t understand why the district wanted to replace, rather than renovate, Post Middle School, he said. Property tax increases in 2018 also made people wary of a new bond, he said. Some of that was related to the landmark school funding lawsuit known as McCleary.

However, Lewis said the district’s overall tax rates will decrease by 2020, even if the new bond passes.

He estimates a drop from $4.68 last year to $2.92 per $1,000 in 2020.

Why is that happening? The district’s educational programs and operations levy is decreasing in 2019 due to changes the Legislature made as part of its response to the McCleary decision, Lewis said. The current bond expires in December 2020.

Taxpayers would take on the new bond in 2021, if it passes next week. The district has a tax estimator available on its website.

Because Post Middle School’s campus is over 30 years old, a rebuild qualifies the district for $11.4 million in state matching funds. That also should make a new school building more affordable than a renovation, Lewis said.

The project includes constructing a bus loop. Right now, traffic spills onto the street at pickup time.

Additions at Arlington High will include eight classrooms and a workshop.

Throughout the district, the bond would provide security improvements such as new surveillance cameras, electronic locks, updated entryways and fire sprinklers.

Plans to add drainage to play fields at elementary schools were removed from the bond proposal, among other examples.

“We can wait on that,” Lewis said.

Julia-Grace Sanders: 425-339-3439; jgsanders@heraldnet.com.

Proposal to dissolve Fire District 1

A ballot measure for Tuesday’s election would close the books on Snohomish County Fire District 1, a department that has not existed — in the sense of having fire trucks on the streets — since October 2017.

The measure is almost purely academic, but by law it must be done by public vote.

Service would remain exactly the same. All firefighters from District 1 became employees of South County Fire when it formed as a new agency.

One impact of the proposal would be getting rid of costs of managing a non-functioning district. Those bills could be around $160,000 a year, said Leslie Hynes, spokeswoman for South County Fire.

A yes vote would dissolve the district.

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