Survey points to new season for school bond

Snoqualmie Valley School District is currently deep in the thorny thicket of bond planning, hoping to come up with a measure to build a new Valley school. It’s been 11 years since voters in Snoqualmie, North Bend and Fall City passed a measure building a real, brick-and-mortar school, as opposed to portables.

The district’s latest survey sheds some light on why we have such trouble passing a bond.

The phone survey by EMC Research, answered by 400 residents, showed that a 67-percent supermajority liked a comprehensive, full-meal-deal package that would build a badly needed new elementary school, rebuild Mount Si High School and free up the former Snoqualmie Middle School, now a freshman campus, to be a middle school again, allowing some elbow room at Twin Falls and Chief Kanim Middle Schools. Various building repairs are also budgeted around the district.

But that supermajority dropped to 57 percent when survey-takers revealed the price, $224 million, roughly $2.25 per thousand in property value. To pass, the bond needs to garner 60 percent of the vote. A big bond is on the cusp—doable, but not a lock, in the words of Ian Stewart, vice president of the survey firm. It's worth noting that support for other options dropped off as well.

The other eye-catching statistic, one that in some senses backs up the old old-Valley versus new-Valley mentality, is the age number. Highest levels of support came from men and women ages 18 to 49, and their support did not drop as much when the cost information was revealed. These voters turn out in greater numbers for general elections in November, than they do for other elections throughout the year. The over-50 voters started out at significantly lower levels of support, 54 percent for men, 57 percent for women, and both groups dropped to 45 percent after learning the cost.

Given the margin of error, these numbers aren’t concrete, just useful tools in the decision that district administrators and board must soon make.

Remember 2011, when a measure to build a new middle school failed by a single vote? That vote happened in February. What might have happened if it had run in November?

For any bond to pass, it needs the buy-in of board, district staff and community. No new schools would come online for more than year, and up to three years, after anything is passed. I am tired of failing bonds, and would like to see the best measure put before voters at the best possible time of year.

Since there’s no time to put together a bond package for November of 2014, so that leaves next spring, and next fall. Survey results suggest a new middle school and a new elementary are our top construction priorities, followed by the high school.

It is time to choose. Let’s settle the hard, community-wide conversation this year, have a town-hall meeting and open houses where people have a chance to speak, listen, and learn about the big package that remakes Mount Si High School, its pros and its cons. We know that elementary and middle school capacity is needed. Now, it’s time to dive deep into what this proposed bond does for high school capacity.

Exploring a November bond is also a good idea. While this could mean more portables for kids in the short term, the prospect of passage at the polls of a real new school is worth it.

The fall demographic won’t help if we don’t have a deep, broad-based discussion and full community buy-in on this priority matter. If we do, a local bond building new schools is sure to pass, regardless of the season.


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