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May 26, 2020

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Evergreen Public Schools makes case for $695 million bond

District officials cite aging facilities, growing population in advance of February vote

By , Columbian Education Reporter
Published:
2 Photos
Evergreen Public Schools Chief Operating Officer Mike Merlino, left, school board director Victoria Bradford and Superintendent John Steach meet with The Columbian Editorial Board on Monday to discuss the district’s $695 million bond request.
Evergreen Public Schools Chief Operating Officer Mike Merlino, left, school board director Victoria Bradford and Superintendent John Steach meet with The Columbian Editorial Board on Monday to discuss the district’s $695 million bond request. (Ariane Kunze/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Evergreen Public Schools officials cited aging facilities and a growing population among the chief concerns driving this year’s school facilities funding measure.

In a meeting with The Columbian Editorial Board on Monday, Superintendent John Steach, Chief Operating Officer Mike Merlino and school board director Victoria Bradford made their case for a $695 million bond measure they say would pay for long overdue school construction.

If it’s approved, the district estimates that it would also qualify for an additional $95 million in state matching funds as well as $12 million in local development impact fees, bringing the overall package to $802 million.

“The need is great, and it’s been deferred for a long time,” Bradford said.

If the bond is approved — and 60 percent or more of Evergreen’s voters will need to support it — the district would make the following improvements:

  • Build a new elementary school.
  • Replace Sifton, Marrion, Image, Burton and Ellsworth elementary schools.
  • Replace Wy’east Middle School.
  • Replace Mountain View and Legacy high schools.
  • Construct a new addition to Heritage High School.
  • Replace the district’s central offices.
  • Replace the 49th Street Academy.
  • Build a new facility for special education transition students.
  • Install new turf at all district high schools.
  • Make technology and building improvements across the district.

District estimates suggest the bond would cost property owners $1.77 per thousand in assessed value, up from the $1.62 taxpayers will pay this year. That amount would drop, however, when the district’s existing bond retires.

Furthermore, the district expects total school taxes will drop for Evergreen taxpayers once the McCleary school funding model is put into full effect next year. The McCleary school funding decision raises the state school levy and drops and caps local levies, bringing Evergreen taxpayers’ overall school contribution to $6.16, down from $7.74 this year.

That means a homeowner in the district whose house is assessed at $250,000 can expect to pay $1,540 for schools in total next year, down from $1,935.

The district last went out for a bond in 2008. That bond measure failed, with voters saying they couldn’t afford increased taxes.

But district officials say that decision left the district with schools in use far outside their 20- to 30-year life span. The newest elementary school targeted by the bond, for example, is Image Elementary School. That campus was built in 1976 and was built with now-outdated roof trusses at risk of collapsing if too much snow or water falls on top, as well as continued lead contamination forcing administrators to hand out bottled water to students.

“We’re at the point where we have to do something,” Steach said.

The sheer scale of the school district also necessitates new buildings, district officials said. Evergreen Public Schools is the largest district in Clark County, with 26,178 students in May, according to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Merlino said the district has added about 6,000 students since 2000, requiring more and sometimes larger classrooms for students.

The district has 363 portable classrooms and plans to eliminate about half if the bond is approved. Steach said that the district is targeting those that were installed before 1993.

The group also cited changing demographics in the district as reason to rebuild new facilities. Of those, 45.9 percent receive free and reduced-price lunches, a barometer of poverty in a school district, and 13.5 percent are learning English as a second language.

With those challenges come additional need for facilities, Steach said. Schools need spaces for mental health services and English-language learning classrooms.

Ballots will be mailed Friday and must be returned by 8 p.m. Feb. 13.

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