Schools eye $154M bond vote

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Last week, the Sequim school board took more steps toward a major capital projects bond proposal, but delayed approving that proposal until Feb. 11.


Board members hope to have the scope of the bond — likely around $154 million, a figure board members seemed to favor at the Jan. 28 meeting — and a date to bring the bond to voters soon.


But board members put off a vote for the bond on Jan. 28, with conversation centering around who would run the bond campaign and whether to put the proposal to voters as early as April.


“I don’t think there’s enough manpower,” school board member Sarah Bedinger said. “It’s a big undertaking.”  


She noted that school levy campaigns often take a large group of citizens up to six months to run.


“And that’s in a year when people know it’s coming,” Bedinger said. “I just think our levy committee, as strong as they are, is not ready for this.”


Mike Howe, Sequim’s newest board member, said two months is not enough to run a political campaign like he has run, much less a major bond issue. Board members agreed to talk with members of Citizens for Sequim Schools, the group dedicated to promoting school levy campaigns every three or four years, before the board’s vote on Feb. 11. School board members trimmed an initial proposal from a facilities committee from about $169 million to $154 million, with much of the major projects intact (see box at right).



Board members mulled giving voters options on their ballot, for funding the projects in phases or graduated levels of bond support. But in the end they balked at the idea.


“I don’t want to do two bonds, one now and one in five years,” Sequim school board president John Bridge said. “It’s a fair amount.”


“I’m not sure of the appetite of the voters,” Howe said. “Everyone’s kicked the can down the road. Everyone wants to build at the same time.” He added, “Whatever we do run, we have to be very open, honest, transparent.”


Bedinger said the community responds to that kind of approach.


“It’s not a good idea to put something forward based on fear,” Bedinger said. “What’s worked before is ‘What we need, why we need it.’ If they don’t like what we put on the ballot, they can vote no. Then we have another decision.”


Board members are eager to get the ballot to voters by the April election date because research shows similar bond issues have the best chance of passing in February or April election dates, rather than on primary election ballots in August or general election ballots in November.


Future growth

Sequim schools superintendent Kelly Shea said that the board needs to be clear that they are looking at building an elementary school to replace Helen Heller, not adding one for anticipated growth.


However, Shea noted enrollment projections will bump student numbers at Helen Haller Elementary School to 630-640 students and Greywolf Elementary to 550-560 by next school year if the district adds full-day kindergarten. Those numbers, he said, likely won’t go down.


Shea urged the board to consider a smaller amount in this bond proposal — in case the district needs a third elementary school in coming years.


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