Planning for future middle school student needs, maintaining public investment in school buildings among reasons to rerun measure
March 1, 2012—Voters in the Renton School District will have another chance to approve the Building for a Lifetime of Learning School Construction Bond measure on the April 17 ballot. The measure received substantial voter support on Feb. 14, with more than 58 percent of voters saying “YES” to the measure, but missed reaching the mandatory 60 percent supermajority mark by 2 percentage points. Two other measures — levies to fund classroom support and technology — passed with strong backing of more than 60 percent voter approval.
School Board members believe placing the bond measure before voters again is critical. Long-term planning for the district has clearly defined the need for this work. A ballot with a stand-alone measure provides an opportunity to better explain to voters the needs including a new middle school, funds required for sustained maintenance of aging schools, and the nominal tax implications.
WHY THE MEASURE IS IMPORTANT
The School Construction Bond measure will pay for critical maintenance and repair projects at schools across the district. These projects — like replacing timeworn roofs, windows, and floors; renovating/repairing aging heating, electrical, and mechanical systems; and upgrading school security and safety features — help maintain schools in optimal working order for student learning, protect the investment made by taxpayers in their local schools, and result in dollars saved in utility efficiencies which then contribute directly to support of classroom operations.
The greatest portion of the bond measure will provide funds to build an additional, much-needed middle school to accommodate the influx of students currently in kindergarten through third grade. Student enrollment in the district has increased by more than 1,800 students in less than 10 years as families move into the area for first-rate schools, affordable housing and excellent community and city amenities. Student populations are increasing in every school in the district.
Currently, elementary students from the district’s 14 elementary schools are served in three of the state’s largest middle schools (approximately 1,000 students at each middle school). An additional middle school will relieve enrollment pressure at current middle schools and will increase much-needed learning space for students now and well into the future.
BOND MEASURE WILL INCREASE AVERAGE TAXPAYER'S COSTS ABOUT $46 PER YEAR
Collection of funding for the approved measure is estimated to cost an additional 18 cents per $1000 of assessed property valuation; for the average home valued at $257,100 that will be about $46 per year.
WHEN/WHERE WOULD AN ADDIONAL MIDDLE SCHOOL BE BUILT
Upon passage, the district will present the School Board with a preliminary plan to build the new middle school at the site of the old Hazelwood Elementary School at 116th Ave SE in Newcastle. Using a site already owned by the district will eliminate the need to find and purchase costly land, and provides space for a "shovel-ready" project.
If voters approve the measure on the April 17 ballot, the district will move quickly to begin work necessary to provide this additional middle school to serve current elementary students in kindergarten through 3rd-grade as they move into the middle school grades.
HOW THE BOND MEASURE HELPS CONTINUED IMPROVEMENT IN STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT
Student achievement in the Renton School District has improved significantly in recent years; for instance, last year 70 percent of elementary schools saw an increase of between 20 and 44 percent on state test scores specifically in mathematics and science. Additionally, graduation rates increased to 94 percent in 2011 (up from 93 percent in both 2009 and 2010). Working together as a community to prepare for the expected future increase in student populations, particularly impacting already overcrowded middle schools, allows the district to continue to offer quality instruction in schools that are not overcrowded and can accommodate growing numbers of learners.
LOCAL RESIDENTS CONTINUE INVESTING IN LOCAL SCHOOLS
Washington State does not fund the building or maintenance of public school facilities. Instead, local voters approve school bonds to protect taxpayer investment in school buildings and construct new schools when needed. Like a mortgage, bonds are paid for over 20 years, helping to keep costs lower for taxpayers. State law mandates that these bond dollars be used for building and maintenance, not for classroom operations; careful bond planning, however, is one critical way districts can conserve classroom funds. For instance, if a school boiler fails, a replacement can be as much as $500,000, which is equivalent to six teaching positions. If no bond funds are available, classroom operations dollars must be used to cover this emergency instead. Passage of bond measures contributes greatly to the district’s capacity to keep much needed funding in the classroom.