• What's behind the school bonds, levies on Tuesday's ballot in Washington

    By: Hanna Scott, MyNorthwest

    Updated:

    The November election is just a few months behind us, but it’s time to vote again. The February special election is upon us.

    The bulk of Tuesday’s election involves money for schools. In Seattle, there are two school levies on the ballot to replace expiring ones.

    Proposition 2 is a $1.4 billion, six-year levy that would cover capital projects, including earthquake and other safety improvements at 16 schools – as well as money for maintenance projects at dozens of other schools and security enhancements at all schools in the district.

    Seattle’s Prop 1, is a bit more controversial, however.

    The three-year, $815 million replacement levy covers educational and operations programs that are either not funded by the state, or not fully-funded by the state, including everything from art and extracurricular programs to transportation, and special education.

    The Seattle Times editorial board has urged a no vote on Seattle’s Prop 1, calling it a political ploy aimed at lobbying lawmakers to lift the levy lid that came with the now-famous McCleary decision.

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    State School’s Superintendent Chris Reykdal disagrees.

    “School districts are allowed to ask their voters for more than they can collect in case the Legislature changes their levy limits down the road,” Reykdal said. “It’s just prudent financial management, and what I tell the Times and others is — don’t worry we will only let them collect what they are actually allowed to collect. But they are certainly allowed to ask their voters for more authority in case they get that opportunity later. It’s just smart money management.”

    Critics argue the district should wait to see if the Legislature comes through with the fix. If it doesn’t, then put the levy on the special April ballot. The district contends it can’t wait. There is a the gap between the levy cap and what the state now pays, which is expected to leave a  more than $40 million shortfall next year. The argument for the proposition says the money is needed to maintain current levels of education.

    Districts beyond Seattle

    The Renton School District has two similar proposals on the ballot, though its capital proposal is a bond measure for school safety and other construction improvements.

    Several other school districts across the state also have school construction bonds on the ballot.

    Bethel School District Superintendent Tom Siegel says they are once again asking voters to approve the $443 million bond proposal to cover the cost of a new high school and two new elementary schools, among other improvements.

    It has failed multiple times, just barely, including last November when it fell short of the 60 percent vote needed (by just 307 votes).

    “We’re in a very dire situation to be able to put all our kids in a decent place and the only way to that that makes any sense at all is to build some new buildings and expand those current ones that need to be fixed anyway,” Siegal said.

    This will be the sixth time the measure is on the ballot in the Bethel School District. If it does not pass, Siegal says the school board is considering drastic options like split school days and boundary changes that aren’t good for parents or students.

    For those voters who don’t have kids and don’t think it’s their problem, Siegal has this message:

    “It’s part of the common good, it’s just like we all spend our taxes to help defend our country,” Siegal explained. “It’s to benefit the entire community, the entire state in this case. It’s just like – you point to roads – it takes more than one person’s taxes to provide for all of the roads that we have out there and everybody benefits from it in many different ways.”

    It’s the same story in the Peninsula and Yelm School Districts, which both have similar proposals on the ballot that they too have struggled to pass because of the 60 percent majority vote required to pass bond measures.

    There’s an effort by state lawmakers to lower that requirement to a simple majority or at least a 55 percent threshold. Dozens of students also spoke at a hearing for the bill last week to stress how important it was for their education.

    “My peers are not wanting to go to school because they’re concerned that their building may fall down around them,” one student testified.

    “It is not only overcrowded, but it is overcrowded to the point that it us disrupting our classrooms,” said another.

    Several school districts across the state have the same problem with passing bonds. Only five of 13 school bond measures passed on the November ballot, with most gaining the majority of the vote, but coming up short on the 60-percent super majority — some by just a handful of votes.

    In Snohomish County, Arlington voters are once again being asked for the third time to approve a bond to replace Post Middle School in Arlington, and money for renovations at the high school to ease overcrowding.

    There are three similar proposals for in Kitsap County for the Central Kitsap, Bremerton, and Bainbridge Island School districts along with a fire district levy for EMS.

    In Whatcom County, there are also two bond measures and one replacement levy for schools.

     

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