Ridgefield voters to decide school bond

$47 million proposal would pay for bevy of upgrades

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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Ridgefield voters will receive ballots in the mail this week on a $47 million bond proposal that, if passed, would pay for new classrooms, athletic facilities and traffic flow improvements for the district’s four schools, school officials said.

The upgrades will address serious overcrowding and infrastructure problems, officials said. However, there are some Ridgefield residents who question the wisdom of taxing residents more during a recession.

Ridgefield voters have approved only two bonds in the past 20 years. School district officials are optimistic this year’s bond won’t suffer the same rejection as its 2008 predecessor because it involves less money, benefits each school and comes as a result of better communication with residents.

When asked last Wednesday what “Plan B” would be if this bond failed, Superintendent Art Edgerly wasted no time providing an answer.

“It’s going to pass,” Edgerly said. He paused before adding, “I don’t think we can shave this bond any closer than we’ve shaved it.”

Ballots will be mailed Wednesday. They should arrive in mailboxes either Thursday or Friday, Clark County Elections Supervisor Tim Likness said. The last day to vote is Tuesday, Feb. 14.

Ridgefield’s most recent attempt at passing a bond received around 54 percent support. Bonds must receive 60 percent plus one.

The 2008 bond proposal asked for $85 million and focused on building a new high school. Some residents viewed it as extravagant, Edgerly said.

School district representatives went door to door this time seeking residents’ opinions on the district’s needs. The district also held symposiums to educate parents and to take their comments. The result, Edgerly said, was a better formulated proposal.

“We did a lot more listening than talking,” Edgerly said. “I know the project in front of people demonstrates we listened to the district.”

The bond proposal would add up to a total of 24 new classrooms at the district’s four schools — South Ridge Elementary, Union Ridge Elementary, View Ridge Middle and Ridgefield High schools. New gyms, added cafeteria space and new or renovated play areas for students are also among proposed additions.

Bond money would also address gridlock concerns for buses and parents’ vehicles caused by a lack of space at Ridgefield’s elementary schools, officials said.

‘Politically incorrect’

No unified opposition group has emerged. That does not mean there are not residents against the bond, said Michael Zumstein, owner of Don & Jo’s Drive-In.

“It’s politically incorrect to be against the school bond because people think you’re against the children, and that’s not it at all,” he said, explaining why vocal opposition has been limited. His children are home-schooled, he noted.

Zumstein’s concerns centered around what he sees as government entities’ troubling habit of wasting taxpayer dollars.

“Everybody’s tightening their belts,” he said. “It’s not getting easier.”

Zumstein questioned why the district chose to hold a special election, a more costly maneuver, instead of putting the bond on November’s general election.

Special elections generally cost $1.50 per registered voter, Likness said. That means the Ridgefield bond proposal could cost around $12,750. It would have likely cost an added $500, Likness said, if it would have been included with Ridgefield’s three other offices on November’s ballot.

The Ridgefield School Board approved a bond measure resolution Nov. 22, thus providing them two months to lobby for its approval.

Bond supporters took economic concerns into account, said Scott Gullickson, a Ridgefield School Board member.

“I don’t think there’s ever a good time to tell people we need more tax money from you, even when we were bursting from the seams 10 years ago,” said Gullickson, who has two children in the district. He added, “We just have 10 pounds in a five-pound can. We’re not able to maximize our ability to operate when we have stressed infrastructure.”

City resident Bill Baumann had reservations about the bond a month ago, largely because he believed officials had failed to adequately explain its usefulness. Baumann said he had an epiphany after speaking with several people with Citizens for Ridgefield Schools.

“(I realized) ‘hey, this is about more than people on a bond campaign or on a board I may or may not like,’” Baumann said. “This is about the kids.”

Voting against the bond, Baumann decided, would be a vote to send city children to school in a “really crappy place” for the next 25 to 40 years.

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

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