Update: As of Feb. 22, 2018, the school facilities bond passed by 70.13 percent. Thank you, voters!
Thanks to past community support, we have many outstanding school facilities. However, some of our schools need attention to provide every child a safe, healthy and functional school.
Why is the bond needed?
In spring 2017, Bellingham Public Schools convened a Facilities Planning Task Force representing staff, students, community members and parents from across our school district. Task force meeting minutes, presentations and data from our process, as well as full details of the recommendation, are posted on the Facilities Planning Task Force webpage.
Their recommendation reflects this bond proposal, which is on the Feb. 13 ballot.
Our schools cannot rely on the federal and state government to adequately fund school construction and protect the community’s investment through maintenance projects of our existing facilities. Therefore, school districts in our state ask local voters to approve bonds to cover these costs.
Proposed bond projects:
Rebuild Alderwood, Parkview and Sunnyland
Cost estimate: $89 million
These three elementary schools are part of this bond proposal due to their condition as well as their proximity to the growth occurring in north Bellingham. This allows for additional enrollment capacity or “infill” of our existing elementary schools before building a fifteenth elementary school in a future bond (not part of this bond). These elementary schools likely can be rebuilt adjacent to the existing schools, allowing students to continue to attend their schools until the new school opens, similar to how Happy Valley was built and Sehome is being constructed. The recent improvements of a new cafeteria and gym at Parkview would be incorporated and used in the design of the new school.
Improving Safety and Security
Cost estimate: $3.6 million
Safety improvements include lockdown shades for classrooms and other school areas from the exterior when needed; radio communication; PA/intercom for all school areas, including portables; access control for more secured entrances at some schools in need; door locking systems; security cameras for exterior vandalism deterrent and protection; and cameras in some common interior areas such as hallways (all school offices have cameras from the previous bond).
Protecting and Maintaining Existing Schools
Cost estimate: $6.46 million
This covers roofs, windows, flooring, heating and ventilation, etc., similar to how homeowners protect and maintain their home. This list includes improvements for all schools.
Providing Long-Term Technology Infrastructure and Reader Boards
Cost estimate: $1.89 million
These technology infrastructure improvements are different than the short-term needs such as computer and software that are funded by our technology levy. These long-term technology needs include cabling and improved technology infrastructure. The bond also would provide reader boards as a communication tool for schools that want them, eliminating this current fundraising need for parent organizations.
Making Facility Improvements for Health and Wellness
Cost estimate: $34.55 million
This includes second phase of turf fields for soccer, baseball and softball at Bellingham, Sehome and Squalicum high schools; one more tennis court at Bellingham and Squalicum high schools so all three comprehensive high schools have six tennis courts; improving drainage and the usability of some elementary school fields so parent organizations don’t have to fundraise for this purpose; and additional gym space at Shuksan Middle School.
Complete Remaining 2013 Bond Projects
Cost estimate: $19.5 million
This includes the Sehome High School rebuild, Central Kitchen, and Transportation Garage improvements. The task force learned that since original estimates were developed in 2012 for these projects that are currently in the planning phase, construction costs have escalated and the Sehome project in particular is subject to new stormwater, electrical, mechanical and building regulations.
Total Cost Estimate:
Some Needs Remain
The task force carefully weighed the financial impact of its recommendation on our residential and business property owners. We have more facility needs than those recommended.
What is the financial impact?
To support these projects, voters will be asked to consider a $155 million bond. This bond will not cause the total combined local school tax rate to increase from its current $4.81 per $1,000 assessed value.
The local tax rate is expected to decrease in 2019. This is possible because of a number of actions, including:
- refinancing bonds and paying off debt;
- expiring school bus levy in 2018;
- planning for the technology levy to be higher in the first years (2017, 2018) for purchasing student devices, with the rate dropping in later years; and
- planning by the state to reduce allowable local levy collection in 2019.
At the state level, as legislators work to fund basic education, they may increase the state amount collected for schools. While there is uncertainty in Olympia, schools rely on local support to meet critical facility needs.
Property Tax Increases for State Education Levy
Homeowners may see an increase in their overall property tax bill this year to pay for the state’s education levy. This is in addition to local school district levies or other services supported by property taxes. The state levy is a result of new legislation in Olympia that aims to provide appropriate funding to all K12 schools, according to the McCleary decision, which is a 2012 state Supreme Court order that found the state’s school funding system unconstitutional.
The state tax increase will go toward overall funding for education and will help even out disparities between rich and poor districts by shifting some of the tax burden away from local levies.