Elections are an act of faith, the belief that casting a vote can bring responsive representation, sound decisions and good government. That’s especially true when voters have the direct authority to approve issues related to how they are taxed.
Now — amid a pandemic and questions regarding how schools will reopen this fall — voters for three Snohomish County school districts are being asked in the Aug. 4 primary election to take the long view and consider how those communities will provide for students in coming years, when COVID-19 will be an unpleasant memory.
Everett Public Schools is going to voters with a 20-year proposal to sell $317.4 million in bonds to build new schools and classrooms and make improvements throughout the district of nearly 21,000 students.
Following failed levy proposals in February, Darrington and Lakewood school districts have returned with requests that seek rates reduced from what was sought four months ago.
Everett Public Schools
Everett last went to the voters for a bond in 2018, seeking $330.6 million in financing to build a fourth high school and make other improvements throughout the district. While a majority of voters supported the request — 55.4 percent — the bond failed to reach the 60 percent approval level that state law requires of bonds. The loss sent district officials and the community back to the planning table, first to redraw its high school boundaries to resolve overcrowding at its southern-most high school, Jackson High; and second, to determine what it would seek in a revamped bond request.
The current bond proposal — about $13 million lighter than 2018’s — also changes the project list; construction of a fourth high school has been shelved for now, said Caroline Mason, Everett School Board president and co-chairwoman of the bond campaign. That change, she said, came not from the school board or district officials but through the direction of a citizen-led committee that included district parents and residents, some with backgrounds in financing and construction.
The need for a new high school remains. The shifting of boundaries has better distributed students among the three high schools, but that fix is not ideal; for example, students living south of Cascade High now are enrolled at Everett High, five miles and a longer bus ride north.
But the shift in boundaries has bought the district some time and allowed a project list that makes investments throughout the school district and improvements at all but the district’s two newest schools, Tambark Creek Elementary and North Middle.
Among projects the bond would fund:
Replacement of three of the district’s oldest elementaries: Madison, Jackson and Lowell;
The construction of 36 new elementary classrooms at eight schools;
Renovation of buildings at the three high schools to facilitate the district’s emerging Career Pathways program;
New fencing, electronic lock-sets and entry facilities at schools to improve security;
Replacement of playground equipment at elementary schools; and
Improvements to electrical, heating and ventilation, and technology infrastructure at schools throughout the district.
The improvements will allow the district to rely less on portable classrooms. While portables are useful to address fluctuations in enrollment at schools, the classrooms provide less-than-ideal learning environments are have shorter service lives than school buildings.
While a fourth high school would have allowed a more comprehensive offering of the district’s Career Pathways program — which seeks to offer high schoolers an earlier introduction to specific high-demand careers — the bond still provides for improvements at the three high schools that will facilitate the program. At Everett, students will be able begin studies focused on careers in medical and mental health; at Jackson, on information and communication technology; and at Cascade, aerospace and advanced manufacturing.
These investments are vital to the education of students at all grade levels, now and in the future.
And they come at a relative bargain.
While bond approval would add to the district’s overall tax millage rate, district officials have been careful to structure and retire debt to keep the tax rate at predictable and steady levels and at a rate that will be lower in the next few years than it was in the past. The district estimates that through at least 2024, district taxpayers will pay a total rate for bonds and levies of about $4.78 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. That’s far lower than the $5.88 charged in 2017 and the $6.55 charged in 2013.
Lakewood School District
Lakewood has returned to voters with two levies:
Renewal of a four-year programs and operation levy seeks a rate slightly lower rate than what was sought in February; in its first year it sets a rate of $2.11 per $1,000 valuation. This levy would provide for additional staff including school nurses, resource officers, playground staff, support for special needs students; and programs for athletics, band, clubs and transportation maintenance.
A two-year technology levy, which halves the request of the earlier levy, seeks a rate of 13 cents per $1,000, and would fund technology improvements and maintenance, infrastructure, computer equipment, network expansion and electronic security upgrades. This levy replaces an existing higher-rate tech levy.
Darrington School District
Darrington has also returned to voters with a programs and operations levy request lower than what it sought in February. The new levy seeks a rate of $1.09 per $1,000, down from the $1.50 sought earlier. The levy will allow the district to lower class sizes, provide supplies and fund programs for music, athletics, languages and extracurricular activities. With passage, district taxpayers would pay about $2.34 per $1,000, lower than the $3.71 per $1,000 in 2018.
The levies sought for Lakewood and Darrington schools help deliver the day-to-day needs in those districts, furthering each student’s education and development.
Likewise, the Everett Public Schools bond request provides needed investments, bringing improvements in classrooms and in schools that students will enjoy throughout their years of study.
As we prepare to rejuvenate our local and state economies following the pandemic and its economic blows, quality schools — amply funded — offer the best return on the investment of our tax dollars, not just in the education of children who will go on to further study and careers but in the development of valuable members of the community.
Voters in the above school districts are urged to cast their votes for the future of their children and their communities.