Kevin Duncan puts his ballot in the ballot drop box outside of the Arlington Library on Tuesday in Arlington The Arlington school District had three measures on the February ballot, including one to replace Post Middle School. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Kevin Duncan puts his ballot in the ballot drop box outside of the Arlington Library on Tuesday in Arlington The Arlington school District had three measures on the February ballot, including one to replace Post Middle School. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

School leaders seek to learn why bonds, levies aren’t passing

Pinpointing a cause quickly could help them decide whether to try again in April special election

EVERETT — Tuesday’s special election proved to be anything but special for several school districts in Snohomish County.

Bonds didn’t pass and levies failed.

While not every one and not everywhere, setbacks outnumbered successes on election night as voters made abundantly clear they are tiring of taxes, even to support their neighborhood schools.

Until all ballots are counted, it will be hard to discern if the forces at play in the Marysville School District where nearly 60% voted against a measure to rebuild two aging elementaries are the same as in the Snohomish School District where they rejected a bond to replace and renovate campuses of an age which would qualify for AARP membership.

And it’s unclear if those forces were different in Monroe where voters gave a surprisingly loud “no” to an ask for money to keep technology up-to-date in classrooms, or in the Lakewood School District, which saw roughly 57% oppose replacing an expiring educational enrichment levy which pays for academic and extracurricular programs whose costs are not covered by the state.

It’s easy to guess at some factors contributing to voters’ aversion to new or higher taxes.

Let’s start with property tax bills. They’re rising. Higher home values are a driving force. Also, some tax rates are climbing as a result of decisions voters made last year. People are feeling the pinch and some of the votes cast Tuesday are by those not wanting their pocketbook squeezed any more.

There’s still lingering confusion on the funding of public schools. The McCleary case did get the state to start paying its share for public education through a record increase in its portion of the property tax. But its share doesn’t cover athletic, drama and music programs, or extra nurses and counselors, or construction. That’s why levies and bonds keep showing up on the ballot.

Car tabs may be at play here too. Voters passed Initiative 976, by wide margins in some parts of Snohomish County, but with the measure tied up in court, they are not getting the relief they wanted. This is the first election since November and it’s all about taxes. For some, Tuesday provided an opportunity to just say no.

And, in addition to those broad factors, are microclimates of concern and unease within each district.

And don’t forget it is harder to pass a bond than a levy. State rules require 60% support for the former and simply a majority for the latter.

This is a barrier that Arlington School District keeps hitting. Voters renewed a four-year enrichment levy for Arlington School District and a majority supported a bond to rebuild Post Middle School but not a large enough majority to approve it.

In districts where bonds or levies did not pass, pinpointing a cause quickly is important because school boards can decide to try again, or put a revised measure on the ballot, in the April 28 election.

They have until Feb. 28 to decide.

“The school board will be grappling with that (question) over the next couple weeks,” Arlington schools Superintendent Chrys Sweeting said Tuesday night. “The need is there.”

It’s still there for several Snohomish County school districts for whom Tuesday’s special election wasn’t special at all.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.

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