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Numbers aren't all in, but a bond is coming for Snoqualmie school district

Few of the numbers are final, but the dates for Snoqualmie Valley School District voters to decide on them are official. The full school board agreed Thursday, Oct. 10, to put two levy measures on the Feb. 11, 2014, ballot, and a capital facilities bond on the April 22, 2014, ballot.

The levies, both four-year renewals of the district’s existing maintenance-and-operations and technology levies, would authorize the district to levy an estimated $18.2 million in 2015. While the technology levy remains fixed at $2.7 million annually, the other levy, renamed the educational programs and operations levy, will start at $15.5 million, and increase by $1 million each year.

The bond amount is less definite, because the school board has not agreed on what capital facilities to fund. Although the full board decided in August to pursue a $200 million project combining the immediate construction of a sixth elementary school with a multi-year, phased remodel of Mount Si High School, discussion at the Oct. 10 meeting ranged widely, from whether or not the board had ruled out a 2,400-capacity high school in favor of the 2,100-capacity plan in Option A, to where the greatest needs in the district are, to the idea of splitting the bond into pieces, to questions about what the true goal of the bond was.

“We need a bond package that will do our high school,” Board President Scott Hodgins argued. High school improvement was his top priority, not the least expensive route to updating facilities, he said, adding that if the district’s priority was to keep costs down, their cheapest option would be to simply add a building to the high school campus.

“Which doesn’t solve our problem,” said Dan Popp. Although he supported the high school remodel, Popp was concerned about the preliminary enrollment figured presented earlier in the meeting. The district’s new demographer, Les Kendrick of Education Data Solutions, projected high school enrollment in 2021, the same year the Option A remodel would be complete, to be between 2,007 to 2,255. This includes about 100 students at the Two Rivers alternative school.

“As a board, are we convinced that when that (high) school opens in 2021, we won’t be at capacity?” Popp asked. “Can we go to the community and say ‘we’re good for a while’?”

Lacking a clear answer to that question, the board discussed other possibilities, such as doing only the first phase of the remodel, scheduled to be complete in 2018, at a 1,900-student capacity.

Frustrated, Geoff Doy reminded the board that they’d committed to Option A, yet continued to go back to the idea of doing only part of it. He pointed out that all of the numbers were preliminary, and that in the multi-year remodel process, there would be an opportunity, if needed, to change the design, find more parking, and build it bigger.

To him, the question was “are we going to go for a bond” to build a new elementary school and improve the high school “because if we’re not, let’s all go home.”

Marci Busby asked what the cost of the Option A bond would be per thousand, saying “I think it’s important for the tax payers to know what we’re really asking.”

Staff did not have a number for her, since many of the costs are still undetermined.

Cost was an important issue, though, and Fall City parent Rebecca Mueller presented her own rough calculation, based on the 2003 Twin Falls bond of $53 million. “This bond is four times as much,” she said, and combined with the renewed levies, would result in more than $1,000 in extra property taxes, on average. Moving the freshmen back to the main campus, she said, and building “a shiny new toy” of a high school was not worth it.

Freshmen could return to the main campus by the fall of 2018, according to the architect projections, when phase 1 of the remodel is complete. Enrollment projections for 2018 range from 1,898 to 2,051 high school students.

“Let me tell you what I do support,” Mueller said. A sixth elementary school was her first priority, and a new middle school was second.

“We support a school if there’s a value for it,” she said, later adding “You’re not going to get public support for the high school.”

Following public comment, the board continued its discussion of possible bond items, including a review of the prioritized needs at other district buildings. The board will review an initial draft of their April bond proposal at the Thursday, Oct. 24 meeting, 6:30 p.m. at Snoqualmie City Hall.

 

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