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Opinion
The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
 

In Our View: Approve Ridgefield School District bonds

The Columbian
Published: April 6, 2024, 6:03am

When considering school bond measures in Ridgefield — or the choices available in any other election — it is important to focus on the issue rather than extraneous distractions. With that in mind, the Columbian’s Editorial Board recommends that voters approve Propositions 10 and 11 in the Ridgefield School District.

As always, this is merely a recommendation designed to provide information and foster discussion. In this case, it also is an opportunity for a community discussion about school bonds and elections in general.

Ridgefield schools have placed two bond measures in front of local voters, with ballots due April 23. Proposition 10 would issue $70 million in general obligation bonds for the construction of a new elementary school, additions to Ridgefield High School for general and vocational classrooms, and repair of roofing and mechanical systems throughout the district.

Proposition 11 would be implemented only if both measures are passed by voters. It would add an additional $120 million in general obligation bonds for construction of a new middle school, updates to athletic facilities at Ridgefield High School and playground improvements at elementary schools.

Passage would mean an increase to property tax levies for residents within the school district. That is the best argument against the measures; nobody likes higher taxes. On the other hand, sometimes taxes are necessary to support a thriving community that attracts new residents and businesses.

Advocates for the bonds write in the Voters’ Pamphlet that the school district has seen a 47 percent increase in enrollment since the last bond was passed in 2017. They also write, “Without space in our school buildings, approximately one-third of our students are learning in portable classrooms at any given point during the school day.”

Since 2010, Ridgefield has been the fastest-growing city in Washington; that growth has expanded the tax base, attracted businesses and amenities, and enhanced the vibrancy of the city. Such benefits often come with a cost, including meeting the needs of students to help develop the next generation of community and economic leaders in Ridgefield.

That is where focus is required. Some critics have pointed out that the Ridgefield School District paid Nathan McCann a lump sum of $318,202 upon his resignation as superintendent last August.

If voters are dismayed by this questionable financial management, they should replace school board members at the ballot box. Rejecting proposals that would directly enhance educational opportunities for students is not an effective expression of displeasure.

That is one way in which the Ridgefield bonds resonate with other school districts. As much-warranted scrutiny of public education intensifies, it is important for taxpayers to separate concerns about management from the needs of students. Public education is permanently broken only if we refuse to repair it.

Another pertinent issue is Washington’s requirement that school bonds receive 60 percent of the vote in order to pass. A Ridgefield measure in April 2022 received approval from 59.17 percent of voters — failing by 73 votes. It is undemocratic to demand a supermajority for passage; the Legislature should address the requirement that hamstrings school districts throughout the state.

The more immediate concern, however, involves the future of Ridgefield schools and whether voters will support their students. The Columbian’s Editorial Board believes they should.

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