Voters to consider $330M for new school, more classrooms

The Feb. 13 ballot in Everett will have a bond measure for a high school and a property tax levy.

EVERETT — People living in the Everett School District next year will be asked again to pay for the building of a new high school.

They’ll also be asked to approve a new four-year local property tax levy to continue funding an array of district services and programs not covered with money from the state.

The Everett School Board voted last week to put both measures on the Feb. 13 ballot.

One asks voters to approve a $330.6 million bond measure of which nearly two-thirds, $216.8 million, would be for the construction of a new comprehensive high school to open in 2022. Proposed on 180th Street, the district recently agreed to use eminent domain to acquire some parcels needed for build-out of the campus.

If approved, another $38 million of the bond would go to adding 36 classrooms at eight elementary schools to meet demand created by a state law requiring smaller class sizes in kindergarten through third grades. There’s $5 million to acquire property for a future elementary school and $22.8 million to enlarge and modernize the Everett High School cafeteria building.

A key component, from the board’s standpoint, is the $32.5 million earmarked for adding specialized STEM and vocational programs at Everett, Cascade and Jackson high schools. Under the plan, aerospace and advanced manufacturing courses would be emphasized at Cascade High, medical career pathways at Everett High, and communication and information technology careers at Jackson High.

“Each existing traditional high school and the new high school will include these vocational learning spaces and a specialty program specific to that school,” board President Caroline Mason said in a statement. “These career pathways will make it possible for our communities’ children to choose whether to live and work in this region.”

This will mark Everett Public Schools’ third try at winning support to fund the building of a high school.

It tried twice in 2014 to get a $259 million bond measure passed, but came up short in both special elections. It received 58.6 percent support the second time but a supermajority of 60 percent is required for passage of capital bond measures.

In 2016, voters did approve a much smaller capital bond that did not include a high school.

Also Tuesday, the school board approved a second measure for the February ballot. It is for a four-year educational programs and operations levy to replace the current levy set to expire Dec. 31, 2018.

As proposed, a tax rate of $2.09 per $1.000 of assessed value would be collected by the district in 2019. The rate would be $2.01 in 2020, $2.10 in 2021 and $2.22 in 2022. That works out to about $2,200 per student in each of the first two years, according to a report presented to school board members.

If the bond and levy measures pass next year, the total property tax burden from the school district will be an estimated $4.89 per $1,000 of assessed valuation of property. That works out to $1,467 per year on a $300,000 home that would be collected on tax bills in 2019.

It would be a drop from the $5.50 rate projected for 2018 which includes the final year of the current educational programs levy.

The two ballot measures authorize the district to raise a fixed amount of money, and actual tax rates vary with fluctuations in property values.

The local levy is going down as a result of changes made by lawmakers to comply with a Supreme Court ruling requiring the state to pay the full costs of basic education in public schools.

Lawmakers hiked the statewide property tax rate and the money raised from the increase will be doled out to school districts. Property owners will see the increase on their 2018 tax bills.

In addition, lawmakers set new limits on how much school districts can charge for their local levies, which currently provide money to cover gaps in state funding for special education and salaries of teachers, staff and administrators.

Under a new law, the maximum amount of revenue districts can collect is $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value of property or $2,500 per pupil, whichever is less.

With its proposal, Everett Public Schools is choosing a point in between those two. Officials say they hope lawmakers will amend the law to allow such flexibility. Otherwise the district could find itself forced to collect less money in the future.

“We are asking our voters to continue supporting the programs that we have and that they have supported in the past,” said district spokeswoman Mary Waggoner. “This is the amount of money it takes to run the programs.

“The (state’s) formulas don’t equitably fund school districts. They need to go back to work and do some fixing,” she said. “If the state says you can’t collect it, we can’t collect it.”

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

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