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News / Clark County News

Ridgefield schools to try construction bond on April ballot as district enrollment continues to increase

By Griffin Reilly, Columbian staff writer
Published: January 6, 2024, 6:02am

The Ridgefield School District is preparing to ask voters for as much as $199 million to address severe overcrowding. Voters have turned down bond measures five times in the past five years.

Interim Superintendent Chris Griffith formally introduced the propositions for the April ballot during a town hall Wednesday evening that reeled in about 110 in-person and virtual visitors.

Both proposals, like several previous attempts in recent years, would fund the construction of new schools, as well as expansion and repair of existing buildings. Proposition 1 is effectively a scaled-down, less-costly version of Proposition 2, although both would fund projects that address population growth.

Running both bond measures on the same ballot might be confusing, Griffith said, but it gives voters a chance to give district leaders an idea of how much they’re able to pay annually to support the district’s expansion.

“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 in an interview Friday. “All of (the proposed projects) are necessary, but we’re trying to give people an option based on how much they can financially sustain.”

Ridgefield last ran a bond measure in April 2022. The $62.5 million proposal narrowly failed for a fifth consecutive time, with 59.17 percent voting to approve. School bond measures require a 60 percent supermajority to pass.

Proposition 1

If passed, Proposition 1 would fund a new elementary school and classrooms at Ridgefield High School, as well as facility repairs across the district.

Ridgefield leaders estimate it would cost voters $72 million over a maximum of 21 years. If passed, the district’s total projected tax rate in 2025 would be $3.13 per $1,000 assessed property value. This rate includes ongoing taxes for the district’s operations levy.

To illustrate, residents who own a $600,000 home would pay $360 annually to support the bond.

Griffith said Proposition 1 is “shovel-ready,” meaning all the design work has already been done. Work could begin as soon as possible in time for the new buildings to open by fall 2025.

Proposition 2

Ridgefield’s second proposition is a steeper ask but addresses work that needs to be done, Griffith said.

If passed, the measure would fund the construction of all of Proposition 1’s projects, while also adding a new intermediate/middle school, an addition to Ridgefield High School, track and field resurfacing, playground updates and more.

In total, Proposition 2 is projected to cost voters $199 million over a maximum of 21 years. If passed, the district’s total projected tax rate in 2025 would be $3.98 per $1,000 assessed property value. As with Proposition 1, this rate includes ongoing taxes for the district’s operations levy.

Continuing with the former example, residents who own a $600,000 home would pay $870 annually to support the bond.

If Proposition 1 passes but Proposition 2 fails, only the projects in the former measure would move forward. If both pass, then all approved projects would move forward.

Growing pains

District leaders felt a pause in 2023 was necessary after the last bond failure to reconsider how to better connect with its community and understand the pushback against proposed expansions that would require new taxes.

The Wednesday forum was an example of seeking that connection, Griffith said.

Construction costs have increased since the district originally sought this expansion in 2019. Plus, growth projections have shifted to require even more space.

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

While public school enrollment has decreased since the COVID-19 pandemic in many districts across Clark County and the state, Ridgefield has added more than 1,000 new students since passing a $78 million bond measure in 2017.

“There was a need for an additional bond years ago and we’ve only increased enrollment since then,” said Joe Vajgrt, a spokesperson for the district. “It’s mind-boggling.”

Moving forward

In the coming weeks, the district’s board of directors will likely vote to put the two measures on the April ballot. After that, Griffith said the district would create informational flyers and schedule further community feedback meetings like Wednesday’s. If either of the measures eventually do pass, Griffith said the district would move to create a small committee to monitor the bond’s progress and evaluate how any unused funds might be used elsewhere.

In the meantime, the district has another major project on its plate: selecting a new superintendent.

Nathan McCann resigned last fall after nine years in the district. Griffith stepped in as the interim superintendent but said he will not be seeking the permanent role.

The district is partnering with Northwest Leadership Associates to conduct a regional search for the next boss; Griffith said he expects the search to attract national candidates.

District leadership will continue to accept applications until Jan. 29. Griffith said a new superintendent will be selected around the end of February but wouldn’t start full time in the position until July.