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Three say yes, two no: Snoqualmie school board answers its own bond question

  - Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo
— image credit: Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo

After months of discussing a $216 million bond proposal and how to gauge the community’s support for it, members of the Snoqualmie Valley School Board were each asked for their own answers to their question.

“Is this proposal the right one for our school district?” Superinten-dent Joel Aune asked each board member individually during an in-depth work session Jan. 23.

The answers were split, 3-2. Board President Geoff Doy, Carolyn Simpson and Dan Popp, each with strong reservations, supported a proposed bond to build a sixth elementary school, remodel Mount Si High School and eventually return the freshman class to the main campus, freeing up the Freshman Campus building for use as a middle school.

Maintenance on all the other school buildings is also part of the bond proposal.

Marci Busby and newly elected Tavish MacLean both said it was not, doubting it would get the 60 percent voter approval needed to pass.

“I think the cost of this bond, relative to perceived alternatives… is too significant a jump for sure passage,” said MacLean, adding that he didn’t think the community felt a sense of urgency for the bond. “From a capacity standpoint, we’re not facing a condemned building, we’re not facing double shifts, there’s simply not enough pain right now to get something of this measure passed in the community.”

“I just feel that we don’t have the support that would be desperately needed in order to pass the bond,” said Busby, emphasizing some of the criticisms summarized in the meeting feedback. “It is perceived that we as a board are not listening…. and based on what I read, the high school staff is not on board. They should be our champions, and they’re not, and we need to find out why.”

The reservations of the other three board members also centered on the bond’s likelihood of success. Doy and Simpson both felt that the board still has work to do to reach a broader audience and address their concerns, to enlist staff support and ultimately, to look again at reducing the cost.

Popp also was disappointed that the board’s vetting process, which included several public and staff meetings in December, didn’t result in a clear direction for the board. Citing feedback that suggested the project was too complicated, that the district should build only an elementary school, or split the project into several bonds, he said the board had lots of options, including no bond at all.

“I’ve heard each of those, either as a concern or as a suggestion… but I did not hear any overwhelming support for any one thing,” he said. “We were presenting the solution as a whole, and I did not hear overwhelming support for the solution as a whole….”

Simpson commented several times that the feedback so far had been from “a small and not representative sample, necessarily.” About 175 community members and staff attended the eight meetings in December, and just over 100 feedback forms were filled out.

Doy agreed with Simpson that further outreach was necessary, to address people’s concerns “with more information, more clarity and more data.”

Asked for an example of people’s concerns, Doy said “They’re in the feedback. ‘Are we really risking everything by rebuilding in the floodplain?’… and so on. People like (bond proposal architect) Matt Rumbaugh can easily address those.”

Regarding feedback criticizing the district for trying to “sell” the bond, he added. “At some point we have to convince people to get behind it, and that’s not just a selling job, that’s looking at people’s valid objections and dealing with them in a fair and consistent way.”

Popp, however, questioned the board’s ability to remove all objections. “I have a great degree of concern that, as it is, in the full comprehensive $216 million bond, I have a great concern that it won’t pass. I, frankly, don’t think that any amount of explanation or education or campaigning will change that.”

He pointed out that the school board has tried other facilities bonds that failed, including a new high school and a replacement middle school.

“Having gone through that experience, part of me wants to say, ‘Well, this is the only thing we haven’t tried, to simply rebuild Mount Si High School to meet the capacity of our high school needs,’” said Popp, who has served on the school board since his December 2008 appointment.

MacLean and Popp shared the opinion, based on the community feedback, that the district needed to look at other options, even to abandoning the current proposal.

“I believe that the comprehensive nature, which, by the way, I would love to see…  while desirable, I think it could be a mistake if we held ourselves to that position firmly while there are certain elements of the proposal that are more urgent than others,” MacLean said. One such element that he, Popp and Busby frequently referred to was a suggestion to build a sixth elementary school first, and to not threaten that project by including it in the full proposal.

“I don’t want to be attached to one plan so vehemently, that everything fails,” Popp said. “We ought to be asking the question now, ‘If this needs to be done in steps, would you support it in steps?’”

In response, Doy asked him, “Would we revisit what we did a year ago, which was just that?”

Last May, the board reviewed three different bond proposals and presented them to community members in focus group meetings. Those proposals included the current $216 million bond proposal called “Option A,” as well as one for $105 million for a new elementary school and the first phase of a high school remodel, and $110 million bond for a new elementary ($35 million) and middle school ($50 million) plus upgrades to Mount Si High School.

Popp said he was not ready to go completely back to the drawing board, but “We have to be willing to hear alternative solutions beyond a single-one-bond solution…. we have to be open minded and ask the question, if not this, then what?” He also wanted the district to ask the community again about supporting a replacement middle school bond, like the one which failed by a single vote in February, 2011.

Student representatives Duncan Deutsch and Adrienne Barnhart were asked for opinions during the discussion, as well, and offered insights similar to those of their adult and voting board colleagues.

Barnhart agreed that the bond would need staff support, and the district had many concerns to address first. “I think that it, overall, is a good bond, but it would be hard to pass.”

Deutsch made an observation about “groupthink,” a phenomenon in which groups emphasize a desire for group harmony over the desire for the right decision. “I saw that as important,” he said, noting the concerns raised, from floodplain and safety issues to no perceived change in capacity. “We can’t look at all these red flags and just ignore them because we want to reach a decision, we want to reach harmony,” he said. “That underscores the importance of what Tavish and Marci… had to say about it -- there are a lot of things… and we don’t have to go ahead with this.”

To end the work session, Aune asked about next steps. Busby requested the scientific community survey to be done, and MacLean asked for community outreach to ask “If you had to do one thing, what would it be? And then what? And then what? And then what?” Popp reiterated the “if not this, then what?” question, and Simpson suggested the board pick out five or six of the misperceptions identified in the bond feedback, then address them. Doy called for the board to discuss what to do if they don’t reach consensus on the bond.

“We are a board of five, and at some point we’ll come to a  vote,” he said. “I think that very soon we have to have a conversation about what we do if we don’t get a unanimous response… because once the vote has been taken and the result is the result, we have to agree to all get behind it, or I think, there is no bond that would pass.”

The work session ended with Aune planning to discuss the board feedback with Doy, and come back to the board with recommended next steps.

The proposed bond is estimated at $216 million, with an eight-year timeline. The estimated cost to taxpayers is $2.24 per thousand of assessed value.

 

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