'No' votes lead in bond vote; Superintendent says Snoqualmie district moving ahead with frosh campus

As election day arrived, members of the bond-supporting Valley Voters for Education eyed reports of hundreds of additional votes arriving at King County Elections, topping even the final counts of February's razor-thin election. Watching the numbers, Jim Reitz, a steering committee member of VVFE, optimistically assumed there were lots of "guilty 'yes' voters" who hadn't participated in the February election, in which Snoqualmie Valley School District's $56 million measure to build a new middle school and improve other campuses failed by a single vote.

"Obviously, that was incorrect," Reitz said Wednesday, April 27.

Early results for the April 26 bond measure show a huge increase in negative votes compared to the final counts from the February election.

As of Wednesday night, 1,430 more people had voted than in the February 8 election; the number of “yes” votes was up by 457 from the final numbers in February. But on the “no” side, there were 989 more votes than in the winter election (these numbers do not reflect the two additional “yes” votes that were added to the count during the March 3 recount). Nine votes have been thrown out.

The bond is currently at 56.39 percent approval, and requires a 60 percent supermajority to pass.

Ballots will be counted until Tuesday, May 10, and election results will be certified on Wednesday, May 11. The next count will be released on Wednesday, May 4.

The bond’s failure shocked supporters, who tried to account for the change from the historic one-vote losses at the polls and in the March recount.

"I'm just stunned," said Sean Sundwall, a district parent and one of the prime movers of the citizen-funded recount. "It would be one thing to lose the election again," he said. "We may lose this worse than any election in recent memory. I don't think we've ever started at 55 on election night. Under the current system, 45 is a landslide."

By Thursday's School Board meeting, the "yes" votes were starting to climb, but, as Superintendent Joel Aune told the board, "It appears that we're not going to reach the 60 percent supermajority."

Despite the bond's apparent failure, Aune said the district had no intention of changing its course on the much-debated issue of the proposed Freshman Learning Center opening at Snoqualmie Middle School in 2013.

"The facilities limitations that we have are going to present challenges to us, but we have laid the groundwork necessary to continue pressing forward," he said. "It's our intent to continue planning and implementation of the recommendations that emerged from the high school study program committee. Those recommendations are going to help make Mount Si even better in the future than it is today, and that's why we're committed to moving forward.

The bond would have funded a replacement Snoqualmie Middle School, to open in 2013 when the current SMS is annexed into Mount Si High School. Its passage would have enabled the district to keep its successful three-school model at the middle school level. Without the replacement school, Chief Kanim and Twin Falls Middle Schools, capacities 600 and 700 respectively, will need to absorb the nearly 1,500 middle schoolers expected in the district by 2013.

Aune was disappointed in the outcome, calling it "unfortunate for the kids," but said the district had a solid track record of dealing with adversity, and "We're not going to use this election outcome as an excuse to lower our expectations."

Both Aune and Reitz speculated that economic reasons and tax resentment were major factors in the bond's failure to pass.

"The anti-tax sentiment that's present not only here in Washington state, but across the country right now, is really at an all-time high," Aune said.

"There were some more visible 'no' campaigns this time around," Reitz said. "You had people trying to send a message to the school district or the government."

Hitting a supermajority has always been tough in the district. Reitz pointed to slim passage of the  $53 million bond that built Twin Falls Middle School, Cascade View Elementary and the new stadium at Mount Si High School, in 2003, by 35 votes.

A $209 million bond for a new high school failed in February of 2007 with 57 percent approval, then in May of that year at 58.4 percent approval. A $189 million high school bond failed in March of 2008 at 58 percent approval.

However, the $27 million 2008 bond that built portables at Mount Si High School passed with 67 percent approval.

"It's only going to get more difficult in the future," Reitz said.

With failure, bond backers ponder a series of undesirable options.

"The backup plan is not great," Reitz said. "Our two remaining middle schools are the only two schools without portables. If we have to resort to portables, they're the logical place to put them."

To Sundwall, "The side effect is that we may lose the opportunity to have a superior system."

"Now the board is faced with: do we go back on what we supported?" he added. As a track coach at Mount Si High School, Sundwall has found that "that place is jam-packed." But he's hard pressed to accept the plan for a ninth grade campus at SMS without the attendant new middle school that the bond would have built.

With two middle schools, "that means kids in some cases getting up earlier than high school kids" to be bussed to middle school, Sundwall said.

"To me, that's not a great experience," he said. "Do I want my kids going to a middle school that's close, or do I want my kids to have a ninth grade campus experience?

"We have an enrollment problem that isn't going to get any better," Sundwall said. "Voters have said, resoundingly this time, this isn't going to work, at least not now."

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