Backers promise big campaign for $219 million school bond
February 21, 2012
By Tom Corrigan
The coming push for passage of a proposed $219 million school bond issue that will appear on an April 17 ballot, may be the biggest campaign ever mounted in the name of the Issaquah School District, campaign co-chairwoman Lesley Austin said.
Austin is probably in a worthy position to make such a statement. A former Issaquah School Board member, she has worked on numerous bond and levy issues for the local schools. But Austin and others said the coming bond campaign is going to be different for a couple of reasons.
“It’s because it’s a bond and it’s a complex bond,” Austin said.
Speaking to a crowd of about 100 residents and officials — virtually all supporters of the bond — the campaign committee, Volunteers for Issaquah Schools, held a campaign kickoff Feb. 2 at the King County Library Resource Center on Newport Way Northwest.
With about $45,000 already in hand, the group hopes to raise $90,000 to help promote the bond issue, which would fund replacement of four schools, along with maintenance and refurbishing projects at other buildings in the district.
A few things the bond package would do, according to information provided by the school district:
- Relocate and rebuild Tiger Mountain Community High School. According to officials and bond backers, this would allow the district’s alternative high school to offer a much wider variety of programs. Cost: $3.9 million.
- Replace the district’s three oldest schools: Clark and Sunny Hills elementary schools and Issaquah Middle School. Estimated price tag to rebuild all three schools: $109.1 million.
- Put in artificial turf athletic fields and replace outdoor cinder running tracks at all five middle schools. Backers say the change would allow much greater use of the tracks and fields and cut down on maintenance costs. High school stadiums also would be the recipients of renovation projects. The cost of each middle school project has been placed at $1.3 million. As for the high schools, they would receive a total of $14.6 million in stadium renovations. Skyline High School would receive the largest amount, $6.4 million.
- Fund various maintenance projects, including replacing roofs and renovating heating systems.
District officials are quick to point out that even with passage of the bond, local homeowners will pay less in property taxes to the schools than they do presently. That’s because a previous bond issue is set to expire this year.
According to the district, the retirement of the earlier bond will drop the local tax rate from $4.85 per $1,000 of assessed property value to $4.05. Passage of the new bond would put the rate at $4.42.
Compared to present rates, for a person with a home valued at $500,000, even with the new bond, property taxes would drop by $215 annually, said Jake Kuper, district chief of finance and operations. He was quick to add that taxes would drop by an additional $215 if the new bond does not pass.
Speaking about the complexities of the coming campaign, Issaquah School Board member Suzanne Weaver said that historically the district has run bond and levy campaigns simultaneously. She and others said voters need to keep in mind the difference between bonds and levies. Levies pay for operating expenses, while bond sales pay for capital improvements. By law, the money cannot be intermingled.
Further, Weaver also noted that with past capital improvement issues, the district could point to growth as the reason new construction was needed. In other words, in the past, bonds were sold on the contention that the district simply needed room for an increasing student population. This time that is really not the case, according to Weaver and other officials. Instead of growth, the current bond would pay for maintenance and replacement projects.
The bond will need an approval rate of 60 percent of those who vote in order to pass. Taking into account the number of registered voters and the number of people likely to vote in the election, the issue will need to attract about 14,000 positive votes to win, said the second co-chairwoman of the campaign, Kelly Munn.
As for strategy, plans call for newspaper and possibly cable TV ads, a number of targeted literature drops, a lot of yard signs and a few honk-and-wave events, along with plenty of public speaking by district officials and bond backers. The campaign is also seeking endorsements from various community groups, such as the local chambers of commerce, Rotary Clubs and other service organizations.
“The fates of our schools and our city are intertwined,” Issaquah City Council President Tola Marts said during the bond kick-off event.
The Issaquah City Council had not endorsed the bond by Feb. 20, but held a public hearing on the issue Feb. 21.
Tom Corrigan: 392-6434, ext. 241, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.