Enumclaw School District looks at post-bond moves | #schoolsaftey

The Enumclaw school board took a frank look last week at what they can — and can’t — ask of voters in the light of the most recent bond failure.

The conversation at the board’s June 5 work study meeting was informed by a district survey finding most respondents wouldn’t approve a bond measure replacing the Enumclaw High School auditorium with a performing arts center, or building a Ten Trails elementary school, girl’s fastpitch stadium across from Osborne Field or new stadium.

The next school board meeting is June 20.

Three projects did get majority support from respondents, though: Replacing the unsafe Byron Kibler Elementary and early learning center with a combined facility, and funding both maintenance of existing buildings and safety / security upgrades.

A bond measure put on the ballot this November for just those projects — an option the board members showed preference for — would likely find at least a bit more success with voters than the failed February bond.

75% of voters rejected that $253 million bond measure earlier this year, meant to build two new elementary schools, a new performing arts center, and a new sports stadium.

Though historically most ESD bond measures are not approved by voters, the decisive failure of the most recent measure sent a clear message — and encouraged district staff and board members to try again this fall with a smaller ask.

“It takes several tries” to pass a bond, School District Superintendent Shaun Carey told board members and district staff, “and we’re at try number 1.”

“Our needs are not fewer now,” Carey said. “They are the same, if not growing every day. And we have to find a way to address those needs, and I’m not certain we can do it in any other way than looking at a capitol bond.”

A levy would “get us there very slowly” and risk aggravating the issues the district already faces, Carey said.

Digging into the data

The district’s poll results were fairly similar to actual election results, if not skewed slightly more toward supporters of the bond.

58% of respondents said they voted no on the bond; 28% said they voted yes. Around 3/4 agreed or strongly agreed the bond was too expensive for taxpayers.

Poll-takers who voted the bond down voiced a few common ideas.

One: The bond simply asked far too much.

“Way too expensive,” one responder wrote. “Many families are scraping by with the huge increases in food alone.”

Two: The new athletics facilities are a bill too high — and should have been separated from the bond.

Three: Many folks don’t want to pay for new schools at Ten Trails, and believe the developers of the sprawling Black Diamond planned community should pay their own way.

Four: Some voters have issues with broader trends in public education — like curricula around race, gender and sexuality — and won’t support a bond on those philosophical grounds.

“I think public schools have a lot of issues that need to be worked out first like how children are taught, what is allowed in schools and so on,” one respondent wrote.

Five: Some voters said a bad taste in their mouth from previous bond efforts made them uninterested in supporting the school district again, and they wanted more fiscal accountability from the district.

Supporters of the bond said the district could have done more to combat the vote-no campaign, including a specific breakdown of the funds involved and responses to common concerns.

“People are looking for a fight and want to make a bond political,” another responder wrote. “While I don’t agree with them if they are going to be the louder voice they will get the votes.”

Asked if they’d be likely to support a given project, poll-takers showed a range of opinions.

More than half said they’d be likely to approve replacing Byron Kibler elementary (54%) and funding for safety (58%) and maintenance (56%) needs.

Only about a third said they’d support constructing an elementary school in Ten Trails (35%). A quarter said they’d support building a new performing arts center at Enumclaw High School (24%). And roughly 12 to 13% of respondents said they’d support building the new stadium or girl’s fastpitch field

Roughly 14% of poll-takers said they wouldn’t approve of any projects.

Younger poll takers were more likely to support the reconstruction of Byron Kibler, while older voters placed a greater emphasis on maintenance, safety and security.

Wants, needs and big needs

Though not an overwhelming mandate, the board agreed there was a clear line: The Kibler rebuild and funding for safety and maintenance both have a strong chance with voters. They coalesced around the idea of putting a trimmed-down bond with only those measures on the November ballot.

“In my initial review … that was a popular sentiment and comment,” district communications director Jessica McCartney said, “wanting to see the projects broken up over time, and wanting the district to demonstrate trust and transparency.”

A smaller-scope project could be an opportunity to earn that trust, McCartney said. And district staff voiced the idea that putting the bond on the ballot, win or lose, demonstrates that the district’s needs really are needs.

Whether or not the board puts a scaled-back bond on the November ballot, they can still direct the district to put together a community task force for future bond efforts and to address growth in Black Diamond, McCartney said.

The board will have an opportunity to visit the matter again during their June 20 general meeting and provide a sharper estimate of the hypothetical bond’s cost.

“The idea of losing is difficult,” athletics director Phil Engebretsen said, “but (consider) the urgency of Kibler and JJ.”

Delaying a ballot measure could make voters wonder how urgent the Kibler rebuild really is, he said.

Kibler and the JJ Smith buildings are seismically unsound, leave students exposed to the elements and create a liability issue for the district should disaster strike, Carey said.

“There is a sense of urgency around replacing that school,” Carey said. “There just has to be. That’s a safety issue.”

And even if the bond measure fails around the margins of the poll — such as by getting 55% of the vote — “we’re moving in the right direction,” director Paul Fisher said. (Bonds and non-school levy measures require a minimum 60% “yes” vote to pass under the state constitution.)

“If we don’t show a sense of urgency … we’re kind of losing some of the momentum, the honesty with the community,” Fisher said.

Board members also shared disappointment that turnout in the election was not higher, especially among the Ten Trails families who buoyed the “Yes” vote.

Around 73% of voters in BD-3849 and BD-3976, the precincts that include Ten Trails, voted in favor of the bond. But only about 35 to 39% of registered voters there voted.

Compare that with voters in Krain, who rejected the bond by 79%. About 57% of registered voters there cast a ballot in the election.

“I was so disheartened to see what a low turnout there was in Ten Trails,” director Lori Metschan said. “Are these the same people complaining that their kids are being bussed to Westwood (elementary)?”

As far as desires to carve out a Ten Trails elementary school from the district’s asks, Matschan stressed that the district is not an “a la carte” menu: “We’re all in this together. It’s not pick or choose depending on which side of the bridge you live on.”

Director Tyson Gamblin said the district is fortunate that land for new schools has already been set aside at Ten Trails.

“I don’t think people realize how lucky we are as a district that we have that,” he said. “Show me a Master Plan Development in the USA where they build the school. … That’s just not how it (ordinarily) works. … (And) the reality is, as we move forward, Black Diamond is going to dwarf Enumclaw in assessed value. We’re not far away from that.”

Gamblin also bemoaned the idea that projects like a new stadium aren’t a need for the community — “you pay for it now at a cheaper rate than when you will need it in 15 years,” he said — but acknowledged that some needs “are more important than others.”

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