Ridgefield schools chief says bond’s passage a must

Skepticism expressed about some items in $47 million package




Ridgefield residents will be asked to vote on a $47 million bond this February that would pay for new classrooms, athletic facilities and traffic flow improvements for the district’s four schools, officials said this week.

The proposed improvements are vital to addressing severe overcrowding and infrastructure problems in the school district, and come at a time when construction costs are cheaper than normal, proponents said.

However, some community members are skeptical whether certain items proposed in the bond measure are essential to the school system during a time of extreme economic hardship. The Ridgefield School District has historically had trouble passing bonds; residents have approved only two in the past 20 years.

The Ridgefield School Board approved a bond resolution on Nov. 22. That provided them with around two months to lobby for the measure before ballots go out Jan. 25.

Theoretically, if the bond were passed today, residents would pay around $1.73 per $1,000 on their home’s assessed value, Superintendent Art Edgerly said. That means the owner of a $200,000 house would pay $346 a year. The bond would be paid out over 20 years, meaning the taxes would be spread out.

Edgerly labeled the bond “a must.”

“This is an investment in the future,” he said. “This measure will also help our home valuation rates to remain higher.”

Contrary to past bond attempts, Edgerly pointed out this measure is “for every student in our district.”

The focus on every school versus building a new high school is the “most noticeable difference” in this bond proposal, said Randy Mueller, chairman of Citizens for Ridgefield Schools. He called the district’s need for the bond “critical.”

Portable buildings are mainstays at the district’s four schools. These buildings are far from ideal learning environments, officials said, and create potential safety risks as students are walking to and from class.

The bond would make it possible to add up to a total of 24 new classrooms at its four schools, according to the district’s website.

“We’ve got to get this done now because we’ve got to take care of overcrowding in the schools,” said Tevis Laspa with Citizens for Ridgefield Schools.

A lack of space for buses and parents’ vehicles at Ridgefield’s two elementary schools is also cause for concern, officials said. The bond plan would address this gridlock to improve safety for students leaving school.

Not every item within the proposed bond can be considered essential, Ridgefield resident Bill Baumann argued.

The former ESD 112 board member questioned the needs for a new synthetic turf field for the high school, two new gymnasiums in the district and new or renovated play areas at the elementary schools. Instead, he favored spending the money on curriculum-related programs.

Baumann characterized school officials as “missing the boat” on what issues needed to take precedence and criticized them for not making the bond’s multiple purposes clearer for the community.

“In order for the people of Ridgefield to squeeze their bucks out of their wallets, they’ll have to understand what they’re buying,” Baumann said. Despite his doubts, he expressed hope Ridgefield officials would provide him a reason to vote yes on the bond measure.

You can read more about the bond proposal at www.ridgefield.k12.wa.us.

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; www.facebook.com/raylegend; www.twitter.com/col_smallcities; ray.legendre@columbian.com.