North County Outlook - Community newspaper serving Marysville, Arlington, Tulalip, Smokey Point, Lakewood

ASD sends bond back to voters

District officials hope better communication with voters will help ensure the bond passes

 

Christopher Andersson

Contractors working at Kent-Prairie Elementary in Arlington to prepare space for two additional portables for next school year on June 22. The school is reaching its limit on space as Arlington's population grows.

The Arlington School District will try again with their $107.5 million bond proposal as their board of directors voted to put the measure on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The bond failed in February with 55.89 percent of residents voting for the proposal. School district bonds require 60 percent voter approval in the state of Washington.

The proposal would have rebuilt Post Middle School, added eight classrooms and a multi-purpose arts room to Arlington High School and made a number of security and energy efficiency improvements across the district.

The district opted not to scale down the proposal and the bond on the November ballot will be the same that ran in February.

After it failed the district looked at its options going forward by reaching out to the community by commissioning a poll and holding discussion groups.

A citizens committee also conducted a survey about the bond.

"The thing we saw in all three of those community outreaches was confusion over tax rates, specifically school property tax rates," said Brian Lewis, executive director of operations at the district.

Lewis said that it didn't help that state property taxes for schools went up by $0.82 by $1,000 of assessed value.

"What we tried to communicate is that there is going to be a larger decrease in the local school property tax that we collect," he said.

The local property taxes for schools are scheduled to drop in 2019. In Arlington that rate will fall $1.84 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The district's former bond payments will also be going away soon.

"Overall taxes are going to go down even if the taxes for this new bond proposal are counted," said Lewis.

Another point of confusion was Post Middle School.

"People were still unclear about why we wanted to rebuild Post Middle School," said Lewis.

The school's campus has many exterior doors and not many hallways, which does not make it very secure, said Lewis.

Modernizing the building would require a lot of work just to get it up to code as well, to the point where it would cost not much more just to rebuild it and have a much better school building, he said.

Lewis said that a new Post Middle School would be good for students there, but also for energy costs.

"There is going to be a substantial difference in utility costs," he said.

A number of schools would be receiving improvements or replacements to their heating and cooling systems, and the energy savings were not well understood by the public, said Lewis.

"We're going to talk more about the efficiency improvements," he said.

The security improvements include surveillance cameras, classrooms locks that be secured from the inside and vestibule entryways for schools so that visitors can only enter the campus at one place.

"I think people understand the security aspects, we did not find any issues with that," said Lewis.

The district also learned that they are eligible for more state matching funds than they thought in February.

"We received notification from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction that we actually qualify for more state matching funds that we have in the past," said Lewis.

That could mean an extra $2.5 million for the district in matching funds if the bond passes.

They plan to use that extra budget space to help acquiring a site for a fifth elementary school.

Current enrollment shows 734 students going to Kent-Prairie Elementary this year and close to 700 at Eagle Creek Elementary.

"We have no space left at our elementary schools," said Lewis.

The district's board of directors voted during a June 18 meeting to put the proposal onto the November ballot. The vote was 3-1.

Increasing construction costs were a concern for officials, said Lewis, who didn't want to wait until one of the smaller election dates.

"If we wait until February of 2019 it will add about $1.9 million in costs to the projects," he said.

As the election date approaches Lewis expects that the district will hold public meetings again for those who want to give their opinion or talk with school officials.

"We want to give people as much opportunity to talk face to face with us," he said.

Lewis said they are working on new material explaining the bond for their website as well which will be up in the future at asd.wednet.edu, he said.

 

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