LWSD asks for smaller bond
April 15, 2014
By Ari Cetron
After a near miss on a proposed February bond issue, the Lake Washington School District is asking voters to approve a smaller bond April 22.
At $404 million, the new bond is a bit more than half the size of the old one, and it avoids the most controversial portions of the past effort. It would fund construction of new schools to accommodate a projected 4,000 new students by 2021.
“Our needs have not changed. We still have growing enrollment,” said Superintendent Traci Pierce during a March 3 school board meeting at which the bond measure was approved.
The bond would include funding for three new elementary schools (two in Redmond and one in Kirkland), one new middle school in the Redmond area, an addition to Lake Washington High School, and the modernization of Juanita High School, which will include making room for a science and technology magnet program on that campus.
The February bond proposal’s price tag was $755 million. It would have funded the projects mentioned above, plus tearing down and rebuilding a number of older schools throughout the district.
It garnered 57.5 percent of the vote, but bond issues need 60 percent to pass.
In the days after that vote, the school board approved the smaller measure. Board members said they need to get started on designing and constructing the new schools if they hope to open them in time for the additional students.
District officials say the bond will add an estimated 25 cents per $1,000 dollars of assessed value to the property tax rate in 2015 – about $125 per year.
Officials note that is a net increase; the rate in 2015 will actually climb by 27 cents as the rate from a different bond drops by 2 cents.
The district projects that dynamic to continue over the life of the bond: The rate will climb higher as years go on, and other taxes, such as a construction levy approved in 2010, will end.
Overall, according to district documents, the average tax rate over the 22-year span of the bond will be 61 cents per $1,000.
Bond supporters make many of the same arguments they did for the February bond: The district needs new classroom capacity to accommodate all of the projected new students.
Without the space, district officials have raised the specter of double-shifting schools or having year-round school to find ways to increase classroom capacity.
Critics say the tax rate suggested by the district is too optimistic and will actually be higher.
However, at least some of these calculations contain flaws in their assumptions. For example, one theory expecting a higher tax rate doesn’t account for an increase in property values over the life of the bond.
Critics also say the new proposal doesn’t make changes to the February bond as much as it cuts it in half to make the number more palatable.
When school board members approved the bond proposal, some suggested they might, in four years, propose the second half of the failed February bond.
At the same time, they called for reviewing district procedures for deciding when and how to renovate schools, so that second bond is not a certainty.
District residents should have their ballots already. They must be postmarked or placed in a ballot drop box by April 22.
The closest box to the north end of Sammamish is at Redmond City Hall.