Everett Schools bond and levy head to April ballot

EVERETT — The Everett School Board on Tuesday voted to send a $149.7 million capital bond and an $89.6 million capital levy to the ballot for the April 26 special election.

The bond issue would fund numerous school construction and upgrade projects, while the six-year levy would fund technology and security improvements at many schools.

The decision came after a relatively short presentation by Mike Gunn, the district’s executive director of facilities and operations. But Tuesday’s action was just the culmination of a series of meetings going back to 2014, when the voters twice rejected a $259 million bond.

If approved by voters, the two new measures would cause property taxes to rise by 73 cents per $1,000 of a property’s assessed valuation.

For a $200,000 home, taxes would rise $146 per year to a total rate levied by the district of $5.86 per $1,000 — still less than the total $5.98-per-$1,000 tax rate in place before the bond failures of 2014.

The district’s portion of that $200,000 home’s total tax bill would be $1,172.

Since 2014 the district has held several public meetings and conducted outreach in the school community. Levy or bond options have been on the board’s agenda at least 14 times, Gunn said.

The last time the district voters approved a capital bond was in 2006. Voters approved a levy in 2010 which is now expiring, so the two will not overlap on district tax bills.

Initially there had been doubts whether the board would even try to run another bond measure this year, board director Caroline Mason said.

The 2014 bond probably failed due to a variety of reasons, including a sour economy and damage done to the district’s credibility in how its new administration building was built.

Ultimately, the board settled on a measure that was much smaller than the 2014 bond, but still addressed some of the most important needs.

“We’ve taken a bite out of critical needs, at a tax rate that is lower than it was historically,” Mason said.

The two measures will be on the same ballot but are structured differently, and have different criteria for passage.

The $149.7 million bond is designed to pay for big-ticket items. The list includes a new elementary school in the growing south end of the district, modernizations for North Middle and Woodside Elementary, upgrading the heating and air-conditioning systems at eight schools, new property purchases, replacing Lincoln Field at Everett High School, a new roof for Gateway Middle, technology infrastructure and telephone system upgrades, and 14 new portable classrooms for Henry M. Jackson and Cascade high schools, which are expected to see their student populations grow substantially in coming years.

The bond measure requires a 60 percent supermajority of the vote to pass, and it authorizes the district to issue debt periodically to fund those purchases, often with a 15-20 year repayment schedule.

The $89.6 million capital levy, by contrast, would be paid off over six years. It would fund smaller purchases, and the ballot measure requires a simple majority vote to pass.

Most of the levy items are related to technology and security and safety needs, such as computer equipment for students and faculty, expanded WiFi and networking, maintenance and upgrades to existing technology, and 10 portable classrooms earmarked for elementary schools.

About $8.6 million of the levy would cover upgrades and security enhancements to the entrances of 18 school buildings.

Director Pam LeSesne, alluding to recent shootings at Marysville Pilchuck and at a school in Saskatchewan, said she was particularly grateful the security issues were included in the mix.

“We need to take care of this now,” LeSesne said.

Gunn also provided the board with a list of items that were not included in the bond measure, as a reminder to the directors of unmet needs.

That list of projects, which is projected to total $435.6 million, includes a new high school in the south end, yet another elementary school, 30 new classrooms to accommodate the expected reduction of class sizes for the K-3 grades, a new cafeteria at Cascade High and a new science and technology materials center.

Most board members expressed relief the issue was now headed toward the voters, and the smattering of visitors in the room broke into applause when the final vote on the bond was taken.

Laura Gothro, the parent of a Jackson High student, commended the board for their work. “I feel this package you’re discussing represents what parents and staff and community members feel is important.”

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

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