Snoqualmie school board floats replacement bond, ups levy rating

A unanimous decision by the Snoqualmie Valley School Board March 10, will put a $56.2 million district bond on the ballot for an April 26 vote.

This bond is a slightly different version from the one that failed by .002 percent following a recount March 8, but the goals are the same: build a new Snoqualmie Middle School to replace the one that will become a freshman learning center in 2013, and upgrade eight other school buildings.

The only difference is the cost to property owners, 49 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation of the property.

"That's 2 cents more than the previous proposition," said Superintendent Joel Aune. "In the time since the first election... interest rates have begun to rise, so we had to go back and review the structure of the bond."

In the February 8 election, the bond missed the required 60 percent supermajority approval rating by one vote. A group of parents raised more than $2,500 for a hand recount of the ballots on March 3, and although two additional ballots had been verified for inclusion in the results and both were in favor of the bond, the outcome didn't change -- still one vote short.

More than 60 parents, teachers, and concerned citizens came to the board meeting to discuss both that first failed bond, and what to do next. Several opposed running the bond again, calling the decision "hasty" and "inappropriate."

North Bend parent David Spring cited the state's budget crisis, which he said is the third worst in the nation, as a reason not to run the bond. "I urge you to delay a revote on this bond, until we have some confidence as to when state funding will be restored. Otherwise you'll be asking the voters to spend $50 million on building a school that may not have any teachers."

Stephen Kangas of North Bend chided the school board for not working on its budget priorities, saying "The lack of a visible strategic plan for the Snoqualmie Valley School District has been a concern of mine for as long as I've lived here."

Carolyn Simpson of Snoqualmie asked what was the rush.

"Since 2007, we've added capacity at the high school to incorporate about 400 or even more students," she said, continuing on to question the numbers the district was using to determine the need. Earlier projects had been "way off base," she said. "We have the time. We don't need this additional space in 2013, and we certainly don't need to cram three middle school's worth of students into two middle schools in 2013."

Current capacity at the high school is 1,750, Finance Manager Ryan Stokes had said earlier in the meeting. That capacity included 21 portable classrooms. However, Stokes noted in the enrollment projections that a "bubble" of 5 percent growth currently making its way through the district's middle schools would reach the high school by 2013.

"Portables are not a capacity solution," said Brent Lutz, Snoqualmie. He was joined by many parents who spoke in support of the push to put the bond back on the ballot.

"Waiting is not a strategy, and waiting for Olympia is not a strategy," said Snoqualmie parent Sean Sundwall, who led the recount initiative.

"I think the people who haven't voted will come through," said Lorraine Thurston, also of Snoqualmie.

"We have once chance to get this right. Our kids grow up once. They go to school once. We have one chance to educate them. We need to stop delaying... Let's get this bond passed. It's the right thing to do for our kids," said Scott Vermeulen.

Board members also each spoke about the bond and their reasons for their votes. Craig Husa emphasized that the decision was not hasty, that the bond was about educational opportunities, not capacity, and that "a supermajority of our citizens said 'yes.'"

Scott Hodgins noted that Spring was right, school funding was likely to get cut, and he was very concerned about the budget going forward, but he felt that the project would never be more affordable, and that he couldn't oppose nearly 60 percent of district voters.

Caroline Loudenback also had budget concerns, but no doubts about how the district would handle any shortfalls in the future.

"I have complete faith in this district," she said. "This community cannot be beat."

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