Monroe School District asks voters for a $110.9 million bond

MONROE — Voters here are deciding whether to approve a $110.9 million bond measure for the Monroe School District.

Ballots must be returned to the Snohomish County Auditor’s Office by Tuesday, April 28. A 60 percent “super majority” is required for approval.

If passed, the bonds would provide money for improvements to school buildings, ball fields, technology, safety measures and other projects. State school construction money would add $21.3 million to the $110.9 million.

The district would levy property taxes to pay off the bonds, which would mature within 20 years. Superintendent Ken Hoover said the tax rate is expected to remain the same because existing district bonds will be paid off in 2016.

Today district property owners pay $1.48 per $1,000 of assessed value for school bonds. The owner of a $278,400 home, the median price in Monroe, pays $412 a year for the existing school bonds. That amount is expected to remain unchanged.

The district wanted to keep the tax rate the same when it decided to ask for the $110.9 million, Hoover said. It failed to pass a bond in 2010 to cover some of the same building improvements that will be addressed if this measure passes.

“It was a tough time to do anything with taxes. So we waited and waited,” said Hoover, who is retiring June 30.

Now Monroe has a long list of major renovation projects to complete with the $110.9 million. Construction is planned to start in 2016 and continue for at least six years. The bond money would also pay for safety improvements, heating and ventilation, electrical upgrades and roofing, flooring, sidewalks and other work.

The district has about 7,155 students in five elementary schools, two middle schools, a high school and five alternative schools. A community committee began evaluating conditions at the schools in 2013.

The committee and the Monroe School Board discussed support for a bond in meetings with about 500 people and more than twice that many online.

“To me, it seems like this is the most community involvement we’ve ever had,” School Board President Katy Woods said.

The district wants to reduce the use of portable classrooms at all of the schools. Students now attend classes in about 40 portable rooms districtwide.

Many classrooms in the district open to outside walkways, which makes emergency lockdowns less effective, Hoover said. With the bond money, the district would like to create one controlled entry point for each school and expand the use of security cameras.

“That makes it easier for us to manage students and keep them safe,” Hoover said.

Among the proposed projects are security improvements, building upgrades and new classrooms at Frank Wagner and Salem Woods elementary schools. The heating system at Salem Woods needs to be replaced.

“We have kids in the library with jackets on because it’s so cold,” School Board member Nancy Truitt Pierce said earlier this year. “We have buckets in the hallways catching drips of water.”

Park Place and Hidden River middle schools both need safety improvements, renovations, technology upgrades, new ball fields and updated classrooms.

The goal is to provide students a similar experience no matter which middle school they attend, Hoover said.

Monroe High School is slated to get new ball fields and upgrades to its Performing Arts Center, should the bond measure pass.

Upgrades are also planned at Chain Lake, Fryelands and Maltby elementary schools, Sky Valley Education Center and Leaders in Learning.

It’s been more than a decade since voters last approved a bond for school buildings, in 2003. That expiring levy paid for building Fryelands Elementary, modernizing Maltby Elementary, adding a wing of classrooms and the sports stadium to Monroe High, and making space for music and physical education at Hidden River Middle School.

Voters have passed three of 20 bond requests since 1991.

“It’s absolutely time to do something, maybe past due,” district spokeswoman Rosemary O’Neil said.

Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; Twitter: @AmyNileReports.

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