Everett School Board considers smaller levy in 2016

EVERETT — The Everett School Board is leaning toward proposing a capital levy in a February 2016 special election and postponing a larger bond ballot measure until 2018.

That’s one scenario the board and the district administration are considering. Other options include putting the bond on the ballot in 2016 and postponing the capital levy until 2018, or putting both on the ballot in 2016.

Board members have in mind last year’s two bond-measure failures as they consider the size and timing of future requests. A decision is not expected before November.

In February 2014, the district sought voter approval of a $259.4 million capital projects bond that would have funded new elementary and high schools and modernization projects, among other things.

The bond required a 60 percent majority to pass and failed by a little less than 2 percent. The board offered the same issue in an April special election and it failed again by the same margin.

The new proposed levy would come to about $80 million, including $29 million to fund a program that would provide mobile devices to every middle- and high-school student in the district. It also would include $22.7 million for maintenance projects for technology and other facilities and equipment.

The bond measure under consideration would come to $225.1 million and would include items like modernizing North Middle School, Woodside Elementary and the Everett High School cafeteria; construction of a new elementary school in the south end; and building or acquiring more classroom space to accommodate growth and new class-size reduction mandates from the Legislature.

Mike Gunn, the district’s executive director of facilities and operations, told the board last week that a special advisory council of staff, students, parents and other community members recommended that any 2016 ballot measures be smaller than the failed 2014 measure, and that the district run at least one of the two measures in 2016, if not both.

“We would love to be able to run both a levy and a bond in 2016. It’s just that the tax rates would be fairly high,” Gunn said.

For that reason more than any other, he said, putting the smaller levy on the ballot next year is an attractive option. It would only require a simple majority to pass.

Board vice president Ted Wenta acknowledged that pushing the bond issue out to 2018 was simply delaying decisions, but last year’s failure of the two measures indicated residual anger after the district built a new headquarters while the Legislature was cutting money for education.

“There is still a perception or erosion of trust over the facility, and the question is whether we can get 60 percent of the vote, and I don’t think we can,” Wenta said.

“We as a district need to demonstrate (return on investment) back to the voters. It allows us to go for a small win, which we desperately need right now,” he said.

Board member Caroline Mason said she wanted to look for alternate ways to cover maintenance costs, such as leasing equipment, because some older schools urgently need work.

“The neglect is starting to stretch out just a little too long,” Mason said.

Board President Pam LeSesne suggested moving the modernization items out of a bond and into a levy proposal. Gunn cautioned the overall tax burden from a $170 million, six-year levy might be too high for voters.

A new high school, which was part of the 2014 bond measure, is not in the bond scenario for 2018.

“Really, if you run the same package, you’re showing that you’re not listening,” Gunn said.

“The feedback we’ve been getting is that the need for a new high school was not well understood,” he said.

The data, however, show that Henry M. Jackson High School, which as of October had 2,168 students and 14 portable classrooms on campus, is going to get more crowded. The school is projected to have 2,364 students and 23 portables in 2022, and that will rise to 2,573 students and 32 portables by 2026.

A high school would take four years to build and cost at least $150 million, Gunn said. If a high school isn’t part of a 2018 bond measure, it would have to be on a 2022 bond, Gunn said.

That means Jackson High is going to get more portables before a new school opens. A lot more.

“They would have to go on the fields, I’m sure. That’s the only place we’d have room for them,” Gunn said.

Superintendent Gary Cohn told the board that there will be opportunities to go over various options for a levy and bond measure during extended work sessions later in the summer.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; cwinters@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

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