Fast-growing school districts seek more money from voters
Several districts in King and Snohomish counties will be asking voters to pass bond measures next Tuesday to accommodate rising enrollment.
Seattle Times education reporter
Two big Eastside school districts with swelling enrollments — Bellevue and Lake Washington — are seeking well over $1 billion between them on Tuesday’s special ballot to build new schools.
Lake Washington hopes voters will approve a $755 million bond measure to build six new schools and to improve several others to make room for 4,000 additional students expected over the next eight years
Bellevue is asking for a $450 million bond measure to replace the last six schools of a three-part construction program to add space for about 3,000 additional students.
Taxpayers would pay back both bonds within 20 years.
Other districts in King County hoping to pass bond measures are Mercer Island ($98.8 million) and Northshore ($177.5 million).
Four districts in Snohomish County are also seeking voter approval for school construction:
• Edmonds ($275 million)
• Everett ($259.4 million)
• Lakewood ($66.8 million)
• Mukilteo ($119 million)
They are among 21 districts around the state with bond measures on Tuesday’s special ballot, according to the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
The office counts 134 school districts with “maintenance and operations” levies on the ballot and 35 more with capital-projects levies.
One district, Issaquah, wants to pass a transportation levy, which would provide $1.7 million in 2015 to purchase 71 buses.
Those levies require a simple majority to pass.
But school bonds, which districts sometimes use for school construction, require 60 percent approval.
Lake Washington is the state’s sixth-largest school district, with an enrollment of 26,220. Its bond measure would pay for the construction of three new elementary schools, a new middle school and two new secondary schools — one with an international focus and one specializing in STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
Opponents submitted arguments for King County’s online-voters guide and print pamphlet that call the plan “extravagant and inequitable,” saying it “unfairly builds palaces for some and leaves thousands in portables and substandard buildings.”
Supporters responded in the guide that the plan, now in its third phase, addresses the need for “180 more classrooms that meet educational and technical standards” by 2021.
Lake Washington also wants voter approval to renew an operations levy that provides about 22 percent of the district’s general operating budgetand a capital-projects levy that pays for building upkeep and technology improvements.
By 2018, all three measures would increase annual school-tax bills by $396, to $2,160, for the owner of a $450,000 home (near the average for a district home), according to communications director Kathryn Reith.
In Bellevue, the district wants to continue the rebuilding of schools that began with bond issues approved by voters in 2002 and 2008, according to the voters-guide statement supporting it.
The bond measure would pay for the final phase, replacing five elementary schools and one middle school and building two new elementary schools.
Like Lake Washington, Bellevue also wants to renew a technology and capital-projects levy, and to renew an operations levy that provides about 27 percent of the district’s annual operating budget.
All three measures would increase the total estimated annual school-property tax by an average $66 per year, to $1,770, in 2018 for the owner of a home valued at $448,000 (the average in Bellevue), according to communications manager Sara Schwartz.
Three Bellevue residents — Laurie Lyford, Renay Bennett and Tom Henningsgards — have submitted opposing arguments to several King County school levies in the online-voters guide and print pamphlet, citing concerns over local levy money being used to pay teachers.
School districts get most of the money for teacher salaries from the state, but nearly all supplement that with their local property-tax levies.
Lyford said Wednesday that she and her co-writers oppose using levy money for teacher salaries and didn’t write the arguments based on the merits of a specific levy.
Although they relied on arguments and research from the Freedom Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Olympia, they are not associated with that organization, Lyford said.
John Higgins: 206-464-3145 or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter @jhigginsST
Seattle Times reporter Linda Shaw contributed to this report.
Information in this article, originally published Feb. 5, 2014, was corrected Feb. 6, 2014. A previous version of the story included a reference to Bellevue’s bond measure that misstated its amount as $450,000. The measure is for $450 million.