School board delays bond ballot question, changes project line-up

September 30, 2011

By Tom Corrigan

NEW — 2:30 p.m. Sept. 30, 2011

After roughly four hours of discussion, the Issaquah School Board voted 4-1 to place a revamped $219 million capital improvement bond package before voters.

But in a decision that came earlier in the course of their regular meeting Wednesday, the board voted unanimously to mount the levy in April instead of February as previously planned.

The issue will appear on ballots for an April 17 election. In 2014, voters also may decide a capital improvement levy — not a bond issue — to pay for some items removed from the original proposal for the 2012 bond question.

The board moved the coming bond issue to April basically at the request of the bond campaign committee, Volunteers for Issaquah Schools.

“They came and said, essentially, ‘We would like more time,’” board member Brian Deagle said. “That carries a lot of weight with me.”

Board President Jan Colbrese said the change would allow the campaign to become better organized. Board member Chad Magendanz said moving the issue to April would avoid potential conflicts with coming holidays.

As for the removal of certain items from the bond package, that move came largely at the request of Deagle, though he received support from Magendanz and board member Marnie Maraldo.

Deagle argued that for certain seemingly routine maintenance items, the district should be using a “pay-as-you-go” approach. But even setting aside what he saw as a common-sense policy, Deagle and others said using a levy ultimately would save the district interest dollars.

“At the end of the day, there are things we shouldn’t be borrowing money to do,” he said.

When using bond financing, the district sells bonds to pay for projects, and then pays that money back — with interest — over time using tax dollars. Using levy financing, the board collects tax dollars and then pays for projects upfront.

Some board members and Jacob Kuper, district chief of finance and operations, said the district has bonded out maintenance items in the past.

“Historically, it sounds silly to bond carpet,” Kuper said.

But he added that in this case, plans call the purchase of millions of dollars in carpeting.

Board member Suzanne Weaver had another objection to a capital improvement levy. A sizable district operating levy expires in the next few years. Officials almost certainly will be asking for renewal of that levy. Weaver expressed fears that adding to the cost of that levy with maintenance projects would make it a harder sell with voters.

In the end, in a 3-2 vote, the board approved moving some items from the bond package to a capital levy, though not all levy details were finalized. Colbrese and Weaver cast the votes against the capital levy.

Even after spending hours debating the idea of a capital levy, board members moved forward with finalizing a bond package for April. The board spent roughly two additional hours in discussion about various pieces of the proposal. Some projects received more attention than others, including plans to rebuild Tiger Mountain Community High School along with Issaquah Middle School and Clark Elementary School.

In the original bond proposal put forth by Superintendent Steve Rasmussen, the total cost of the interrelated Tiger Mountain projects was $86 million.

Initially, Deagle pushed for removal of the package saying the improvements to Tiger Mountain were not worth the price tag. He said while the changes were intended in part to allow better educational programming at Tiger Mountain, that programming has not been planned.  Kuper said the issue was kind of a “chicken and egg thing,” noting some planning couldn’t logically be completed until new facilities are in place.

Other board members argued improvements to the aging Issaquah Middle School couldn’t wait. Maraldo said the projects might not move forward immediately even if a bond is approved, giving time for the development of new educational programs. Although no specific vote was taken, Deagle backed off the issue, stating the majority of the board seemed to support moving forward with rebuilding the three schools.

Deagle also led a somewhat-aborted charge to slash improvements to athletic stands at Issaquah High School.

Rasmussen’s bond package included work to stadiums at Issaquah, Liberty and Skyline high schools. Deagle said the facilities at Skyline and Liberty are substandard and clearly need replacing. But he argued that is not the case at Issaquah High. After attending the recent Issaquah-Skyline football game at Issaquah High, Deagle said he found the environment “perfect.”

Some board members, as well as audience members, disagreed. Audience members reported long lines to get into the Issaquah stadium prior to major football games and said fans had to show up hours prior to kick-off in order to get a seat.

In the end, the board agreed to scaled-down improvements at Issaquah, improvements that will still greatly increase stadium seating capacity.

The board voted on the amended bond package at about 11 p.m. With no public comment, Magendanz cast the only negative vote.

The district has posted a complete list of bond projects on its website. Learn more at www.issaquahwednet.edu.

Tom Corrigan: 392-6434, ext. 241, or tcorrigan@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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