Everett School Board wants thoughts on why $259M bond vote failed

EVERETT — The Everett School Board says it would like the community to answer a question: Why do you think the district’s $259 million bond issue failed?

Pam LeSesne, school board president, said she plans to visit area schools and knock on doors in her neighborhood in search of answers.

And for those who won’t get the opportunity to tell her in person, LeSesne said she hopes the public will email her with their views.

“We’ve got to hear from our constituents,” she said. “We represent the entire community and have to listen to what the community is saying.”

The invitation for public comments comes as the school board faces a March 7 deadline for placing an issue on the April 22 ballot.

LeSesne said the other four school board members will undertake similar efforts to get comments from the public before a March 4 meeting.

About 58 percent of the those voting in the Feb. 11 election supported the bond issue, but it failed to get the required 60 percent supermajority required of bonds.

The bond issue would have paid for building and construction projects, including a new high school, a new elementary school and a major upgrade to North Middle School.

The tax, $3.01 per $1,000 in property valuation, would have been about the same as the rate for the school district’s current bonds, which are being paid off.

LeSesne said she’s only received about a dozen emails from the public about why the bond issue failed. An email offers an opportunity to more fully express an opinion, since the public is limited to three minutes of comment per person at board meetings, she said.

No formal polling is being done about the bond issue’s failure. Low voter turnout, although typical in special elections, could have been a factor. Only 25 percent of residents in the district who received ballots participated in the election.

“Whether you voted yes or no, just the fact so few people are voting is not a good thing,” said school board member Caroline Mason.

As indicated by the relatively close margin by which it failed, the bond issue is not without supporters. During a meeting on Tuesday, four people urged the school board to put the measure back on the ballot.

Among them was Larry O’Donnell, who has written a history of the school district. “I would suggest that getting this back to the voters rather quickly is important,” he said. Referring to the regular operating levy, which did win voter approval in the election, O’Donnell said, “We’ve got money for instructional programs. Now we need money for the facilities.”

Ed Glazer, a North Middle School teacher, said he hoped the school board would keep a proposal for $41 million of improvements at his school in any proposed bond issue.

The school opened in 1981. In comments after the meeting, Glazer said that the building is not a place that kids feel proud going to. “They feel proud of the education, but physically it’s sad,” he said.

On social media, the school district has been criticized for the new $28.3 million administration building, which opened in November. While it replaced aging and energy-inefficient buildings, critics have used it as a symbol on which to vent their frustrations with the district.

Meanwhile, the school district says planning for future growth and current overcrowding at schools are some of the main reasons the bond issue was proposed. Five elementary schools are over capacity by 300 students. Both Jackson and Cascade high schools are crowded.

Even if the single-most-expensive item in the bond issue, a new $89 million high school, were cut from the list of projects in a future bond issue, officials predict the district would still face having to add 25 classrooms over the next decade at Jackson High School and five at Cascade.

Kim Guymon, founder of The Everett School Board Project, a watchdog group, said she thinks there is lingering mistrust over the decision to build the district’s new administration building. “We have some pretty severe needs that $28 million could have taken care of,” she said.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

Tell them what you think

Pam LeSesne, the Everett School Board president, is asking the public to tell her why they think the district’s proposed bond issue failed. Comments may be emailed to her at pam.lesesne@everettsd.org.

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