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Jerry Sinn: Back to drawing board with school bond proposal
In just a few weeks voters in the Sequim School District will be asked to vote on Proposition 1 — School Improvements General Obligation Bonds — $154,325,000, the largest school bond proposal in the history of Clallam County.
The actual cost for the taxpayers would be $262.1 million, which includes $107.8 million in estimated interest. The bonds are 20-year general obligation bonds.
The issue is not being for or against providing quality education for our children. It is about identifying the priorities to achieve quality education and determining options that are within our means. The optimum solution should balance three elements — what is essential, what is reasonable and what financial impact it will have on the middle- and lower-income families.
With the wide range of projects in this proposal and a lack of prioritization, there is no clear determination of what is essential. We the taxpayers are faced with an all or nothing choice. The total package includes projects from safety improvements and a new elementary school to building a league-approved football stadium with an artificial turf, a new bus barn and shop, a central warehouse, new tennis courts and a new gym, to list a few. Are all these projects essential, reasonable and of equal priority?
The safety of our children is a priority. As much as we value our open campuses, uncontrolled access creates a difficult environment to manage. This must be addressed. There are a variety of ways to improve safety in our schools. A few examples of what has been done elsewhere include: installing reinforced external doors, cameras for monitoring, perimeter fencing that directs all access to controlled points and campus security guards. We will need a solution that meets the essential need, is reasonable and is affordable.
How are the educational needs being met? Quality education is measured by outcomes such as the percentage of students that graduate on time, graduates that pursue post-secondary education; graduates entering four-year colleges that require remedial math and/or English, etc. How will spending $262 million on facility replacement and remodeling improve these measures? Great educations are more the result of great teachers and strong curriculum than they are on the amount of money we spend. This point is demonstrated by the fact that the state with the highest expenditure per student is ranked No. 32 in 50 states – in terms of their performance.
Is Proposition 1 a reasonable proposal or a wish list? As reported by the Sequim Gazette, the committee co-chairman, Sue Ellen Riesau said, “The committee put together a vision for what the future should look like.” She noted that worrying about the dollars wasn’t part of the assignment. “It was our job to dream.”
At a cost of $262 MILLION can we the people of the Sequim School District really afford this vision, “The Dream”? It represents an 80-percent increase in the amount now assessed for schools on your tax bill. It results in a 16-percent increase in your overall tax bill. On a $200,000 home, the added cost to the tax bill would be approximately $340 per year, almost $7,000 in additional taxes over the term of the bond.
Today, annual taxes per student are $10,635. This figure includes taxes from all sources for the school district’s general fund and debt servicing, divided by Full Time Equivalent (FTE) students. If the bond is passed, the taxes per student would increase 45 percent to $15,489.
Many residents in the Sequim School District are senior citizens; many are on fixed incomes. A tax increase of this magnitude will adversely affect them. Young families and individuals would not escape the impact even though they may not own property. The heavy burden of higher taxes would result in increases in rents to adjust for the increase in cost to rental property owners. Yet we are being asked to pass the largest local bond proposal in our history.
Here are the facts! Clallam County school-aged population has decreased 11.5 percent since 2000. Unemployment is high at 9.8 percent. The labor force is shrinking with 2.8 percent fewer employed since 2005. Working age population is decreasing. Retired population is increasing. Sales tax receipts are dropping (25 percent lower than 2005). Median individual worker income is $24,064. Median household income within the Sequim School District is $47,942.
The only item that is increasing is taxes. Total property taxes in constant 2000 dollars are increasing; do we believe that all other taxing authorities will hold their assessments, fees and taxes constant for 20 years while these bonds are being paid? How about new libraries, new city halls and new police facilities, utility rate increases?
We must say “NO” to this bond proposal and encourage the school board to go back to the drawing board, take a more realistic approach and prioritize the projects.
Jerry Sinn is a Sequim resident.