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Bond appetite: Valley School district survey to assess community support for facilities bond

A long-awaited community survey on school facilities starts May 28 in the Snoqualmie Valley School District. The telephone survey is intended to gauge local taxpayers’ feelings on a complex $224 million bond proposal, to give the school board its marching orders on facilities planning.

“I think we have to make this decision before school gets out this year… “ said board member Carolyn Simpson at the May 15 board meeting, and when the board receives the survey results, “I want us to be able… to say ‘go’ or ‘no go.’”

The subject of the decision is Option A, an eight-year plan that would build a new elementary school by 2016-17, renovate Mount Si High School with the potential to bring the freshmen class back to the main campus by 2018, and make various updates and repairs to each of the other school buildings within the district.

Cost for this bond was estimated at $216 million, or about $2.25 per thousand of assessed value, when it was proposed last year, but district staff are now estimating the cost to be $225 million due to inflation and other cost changes.

The expense of the bond was often criticized during the board’s “vetting” process of the proposal, which began in November, and even a year ago, focus group participants providing input on three different bond proposals cited the amount of Option A as a significant disadvantage. Board members also feared that the bond would not receive a 60 percent majority because of the cost, and asked for this survey. After several meetings spent debating the content of the survey, the board agreed on the details May 15, and the questions were finalized last week, said Superintendent Joel Aune.

Although the survey is ready for the public, survey company EMC Research (www.emcresearch.com) will not start phone calls until May 28, Aune said, to avoid the Memorial Day holiday weekend. The survey will likely run through a weekend, he explained, in order for EMC to reach its goal of 400 respondents.

The survey consists of 44 questions, and is projected to take about 15 minutes to complete.

“The number-one objective in this exercise is to gauge the current level of support in the community around… Option A,” Aune said, so the survey will include some background information on the district’s current facilities and plans — “some, but not a lot,” said Aune. “It’s going to be a balance.”

A random sampling of school district residents will be called, starting in the early evenings, but Aune cautioned  that “not that many people are going to get calls, percentage-wise.”

A report on the survey results is expected by the June 12 school board meeting. The survey has a margin of error of 4.9 percent, plus or minus, and at a cost of about $19,000, could be more cost-effective than simply putting the bond on the ballot. In addition to the staff and volunteer time a bond proposal takes, the district must pay for each election it holds, from roughly $33,000 to $60,000 depending on the type of election.

The survey, Aune said, is “money well-spent, and a solid business practice.”

During his tenure, the district has tested other bond proposals with the same type of survey, including the 2007 and 2008 bonds for a new high school, and the 2011 replacement middle school bond.

Each of those bonds failed narrowly, emphasizing Aune’s point that the survey will not necessarily predict success, but can indicate “whether you’ve got a good chance at being successful.”

Learn more about the school district at www.svsd410.org.

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