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News / Clark County News

Ridgefield bonds redux: District strives again to pass measures to address school overcrowding

Propositions 10, 11 on April 23 ballot

By Griffin Reilly, Columbian staff writer
Published: April 9, 2024, 6:05am
3 Photos
Land off Northeast 29th Avenue belongs to the Ridgefield School District, which is running yet another bond attempt during this month&rsquo;s special election. The district has already purchased land for new schools to be built if the bond passes.
Land off Northeast 29th Avenue belongs to the Ridgefield School District, which is running yet another bond attempt during this month’s special election. The district has already purchased land for new schools to be built if the bond passes. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Voters in Ridgefield might be feeling like they’re experiencing déjà vu.

The Ridgefield School District is running two construction bond measures on the upcoming April 23 ballot. It’s the sixth time since 2018 the district has run such a bond to support the construction of new schools. Ballots were mailed Friday, and voters can expect them in their mailboxes by Thursday at the latest.

This time, however, the district is offering voters options.

The first measure, Proposition 10, would collect $70 million in property taxes to construct a new elementary school, expand Ridgefield High School and fund various repairs throughout the district.

The second measure, Proposition 11, would collect an additional $120 million if and only if voters approved both it and Proposition 10. In addition to the projects funded by Proposition 10, Proposition 11 would build another intermediate school campus and pay for several other upgrade and repair projects throughout the district.

Interim Superintendent Chris Griffith said the strategy of running both measures gives voters a chance to show the district how much they’re able to pay to support Ridgefield’s expansion needs.

“There are a lot of factors stretching every home’s budget, and we need to be conscientious about that. We understand what’s happening,” Griffith said at a public forum in January. “All of (the proposed projects) are necessary, but we’re trying to give people an option based on how much they can financially sustain.”

Growth

District leaders have repeated the same message each time with increasing urgency: Ridgefield schools are more and more crowded each year, and new schools are needed. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, Ridgefield’s population ballooned from 4,763 residents in 2010 to 10,319 residents in 2020.

The last bond passage came in 2017, which primarily funded the construction of Sunset Ridge Intermediate School for fifth through eighth grades. Since 2017, the district has seen its total enrollment skyrocket from 3,080 students to 4,163 students as of fall 2023.

Following the most recent bond failure in August 2022, the district redrew some of its elementary boundaries and converted multipurpose space in a handful of schools into new classrooms while it waited to figure out a better way to present a viable option to voters.

“Unfortunately, the elementary school we are asking for today is now more expensive than the one we asked for before,” Griffith said in January.

If Proposition 10 passes, the district’s projected tax rate in 2025 would be $3.11 per $1,000 assessed property value. This rate includes ongoing taxes for the district’s operations levy. That would mean voters with a home valued at $600,000 can expect to pay an additional $306 in school taxes annually to support the bond.

Griffith referred to Proposition 10 as “shovel-ready,” meaning construction could start right away, with land for the new school already purchased.

If Proposition 11 passes, the district’s projected tax rate in 2025 would be $3.89 per $1,000 assessed property value. This rate also includes ongoing taxes for the district’s operations levy. That would mean voters with a home valued at $600,000 can expect to pay an additional $780 in school taxes annually to support both bonds.

Community efforts

Kelliana Cole is a leader at Citizens for Ridgefield Schools, a committee working to muster support for the bond. As a parent in the district, Cole said she has witnessed overcrowding. Her son, Henry, is a second-grader at Union Ridge Elementary School, where he attends class in a portable classroom.

“(Henry) said he doesn’t like it because his closest friends are inside the school. He feels slightly displaced because they’re disconnected,” Cole said. “Each portable has two classrooms side by side with paper-thin walls. If you’re a second-grader, it provides a certain level of distraction.”

Since January, Citizens for Ridgefield Schools has amassed 100 volunteers and knocked on 8,000 doors across the district’s boundaries. Cole said the group has identified a handful of frequently asked questions: Why are there two measures? Just how bad is the overcrowding? What did the 2017 bond provide?

“What we wanted to apply here was almost this collective responsibility to create something that people felt they could connect to,” Cole said. “We want people to feel that they have an opportunity to invest in our children’s future, no matter if they have students in the schools or not.”

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The most critical takeaway so far, she said, is many people have been unaware of prior votes. As of February, there were 18,468 registered voters in the Ridgefield School District boundaries. The last bond attempt in August 2022 drew only 9,105 ballots.

“What we are really focused on is getting people to turn in their ballots,” Cole said. “We’ve lost a few of these elections by just a hundred votes or less.”

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