School advocates eye bond support as district sets forums

Sequim Schools Superintendent Gary Neal talks immediate needs

School construction bond forums

• 6 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 29, at Sequim High School in Room P-1 (portable)

• 6 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 13, at Helen Haller Elementary School, library

• 6 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 15, at Greywolf Elementary School, multi-purpose room

• 4 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 22, at Sequim High School, Room P-1 (portable)

More information: Call 582-3260 or go to


On track to propose a multi-million dollar construction bond to benefit the Sequim School District in November, district officials and advocates with Citizens for Sequim Schools are reaching to out expose voters to the reasoning behind the $49.3 million request.

Despite the failure of two previous bond measures since April 2014, in early August the Sequim School District Board of Directors — president Bev Horan, vice president Heather Jeffers, Michael Howe and Walter Johnson — opted to pursue a slightly reduced bond request; board director John Bridge was absent.

The last bond proposal in February for $49.265 million received more than 57 percent supportive votes, but still fell short of the 60 percent super majority needed to pass.

This time around “it’s going to pass,” Gary Neal, Sequim School District superintendent, said. “I guarantee it.”

Consistent with the nature of learning and the evolving world – in the field of education “there is no finish line,” Neal said. Thus, the ability to transition and meet the needs associated to change among education and technology is one force driving the need for a bond.

“When technology moves so fast, we need to have the flexibility to move on with the needs and that’s the beauty about the size of Sequim,” Neal said.

“We’re large enough that we can maintain and have some of these opportunities for our kids because we’re not completely rural, yet we’re not a district of 30,000 where it takes a long time for the ship to change course and to move … that’s a real huge advantage.”

Immediate needs

From an immediate perspective, the district’s schools are at “capacity” with students “shoulder-to-shoulder,” Neal said. And, in some cases the buildings are no longer safe.

Having added several portables to the elementary schools during the summer, Neal looks to the bond to first address the “same problem we’ve had.”

“We’re beyond the capacity for what these structures were initially built for,” he said.

As the kindergartners from last year move into first grade, it’s the first time they’ve attended school full-time. Until this year kindergarten within the district was part time, but in response to state requirements, this year’s kindergarteners also are attending class all day.

“That’s two grade levels in two different building where we’ve doubled the enrollment, so that’s something that we need to take a look at along with our lunch rooms, transportation and instructors,” Neal said.

Among what officials call unsafe classroom situations targeted for change under the bond is the band and choir room located in the old middle school across from the high school. The band room is “undersized” for high school-aged students, Vern Fosket, Sequim High School band director, said.

Being “completely disconnected” from the high school campus requires more than 200 hundred students enrolled in band and/or choir to cross Fir Street, miss instructional time because of the length of walk to class and operate on a different bell and emergency announcement system as the classroom isn’t wired to the main campus, Fosket said.

The bond and anticipated $4.3 million in state matching funds would enable the construction of new high school band and choir rooms on the school’s main campus. It also would allow for a new elementary school, four more classrooms and a gym to Greywolf Elementary School, repurpose two portions of Helen Haller Elementary School for the Olympic Peninsula Academy and the alternative learning experience program, update the district’s base kitchen that serves 2,800 students within the district, six more high school science classrooms and the renovation of the 1979 addition of the Sequim Community School to provide a central warehouse and maintenance facility. The 1948 portion of the Sequim Community School is to be demolished.

Future needs

Apart from basic space and safety concerns and from a more visionary stance, the district’s existing infrastructure lacks the ability to offer a 21st-century form of education, Neal said.

“If we were trying to address just technology, we would probably have to flatten most of the buildings just to get them wired appropriately to get the power that we need to use modern technology,” he said.

Some of the classrooms have two power outlets, which hinder Neal’s vision to incorporate more of a STEM model of education by weaving together science, technology, engineering and mathematics into the everyday curriculum. Neal helped to introduce STEM during his previous position in Spokane.

“I would just love to see us doing things that really promote the capacity of the students to have more of a career pathway that ties into their learning,” Neal said. “I don’t think it’s any secret that we’ve outgrown our public education as far as putting things in silos.”

“Instead of teaching algebra and English and world affairs – maybe we do things that tie all those things together,” he said.

Already, to help ready students for careers and avenues for higher education following their K-12 education, officials with the Sequim School District and Peninsula College are exchanging ideas.

“These are the things that are going to help springboard our students to the next level of understanding,” Neal said. “In order for us to just keep up with the methodology of what’s going to help these students get to where they need to be, we need to start with the structures.”

The right to vote

Taking a step back from the schools to also emphasize the simple right to vote, officials with Citizens for Sequim Schools have rebranded. Instead of the iconic red apple associated with Sequim schools, the new logo increasingly seen as the November General Election nears is a simple school house, topped with an American flag.

“We were very deliberate to incorporate a flag into the brand,” Colleen Robinson, Citizens for Sequim School president, said. “We wanted it to also be about the duty and privilege to vote.”

The advocacy group working to pass the bond also is deliberate in its effort to reach busy parents and impress the importance of voting.

“People need to know that their vote counts,” Robinson said.

Although, as an organization, the Clallam County League of Women Voters isn’t advocating support for the bond, members are collaborating with Citizens for Sequim Schools and the district to be present at the functions centered on the bond to encourage residents to vote and register people.

Extending their reach even further to spur engagement, those with Citizens for Sequim Schools are increasing the group’s social media and online presence, Robinson said. The group maintains an active Twitter, Facebook and website.

“This has helped us connect with parents and even get high school students involved and aware,” she said.

Having worked for the Sequim School District for about nine years until this January and with four of her five children as Sequim High School graduates, Robinson hopes to bring an inside perspective to the advocacy group.

“We’re trying to make voters aware of what we’ve been doing with so little money within the schools and now it’s time to invest,” she said. “We have 29 portables … that alone equals one elementary school, but people just aren’t always aware.”

Recognizing the first bond request was “too much,” Robinson feels the last bond measure was still running against the initial voter negativity felt from the first proposal.

However, with the motto of “It’s going to pass” at every Citizens for Sequim School’s meeting, Robinson is optimistic moving toward November.

Since their campaign began in August, but formally kicked off on Tuesday, community members and local businesses have been “very supportive,” Robinson said. To help with the costs associated with the campaign and rebranding, some business owners have even deferred payment until after the group’s annual Golf Tournament and fundraiser set for Saturday, Oct. 17.

Tax impact

Upon approval, the rate to repay the bond within a 20-year window is set at 61 cents per $1,000 assessed property valuation. Coupled with the Educational Programs and Operations levy, the 2016 school rate would be $2.19 per $1,000 assessed valuation. For example, that tax rate would equate to $12.71 per month for a property valued at $250,000.

Among recent tax rates, $2.19 per $1,000 assessed valuation is below the 2013 rate, but more than those paid within the past two years.

Persons 61 years old or older that earn less than $40,000 annually may be eligible for an exemption from the school tax.

In addition to the series of educational forums about the upcoming bond proposal, Neal is available to meet with groups, neighborhoods and communities for “coffee chats.” If interested in hosting a chat, contact administrative assistant Marilyn Walsh at 582-3262.

More information about the school bond is available on the district’s website,, or visit the Citizen’s for Sequim Schools website,



Reach Alana Linderoth at