News

Voters control school bond's fate

By MARGO HORNER

The Mirror

This weekend, folks in Federal Way will begin receiving absentee ballots in the mail for a $149 million school construction bond.

The measure presented to voters is the same one the Federal Way School District tried to pass in November, when the bond failed by 133 votes.

The school board voted unanimously in February to bring the same bond back to voters a second time. It marks the third bond presented to voters in just over a year.

In February 2006, the district tried to pass a $245 million bond, but it failed. The current bond proposal is a scaled-down version of that.

School district chief financial officer Sally McLean noted that the current bond proposal will not cost taxpayers any more money. The tax rate will remain at $4.19 per $1,000 valuation of property as previous bonds expire.

Federal Way already has some of the lowest tax rates compared to neighboring districts, McLean added.

If the bond fails, the tax rate will be reduced by about five cents, McLean estimated.

The most recent school construction bond passed in Federal Way was in 1999 for $83 million. McLean noted that those projects — Sequoyah, Todd Beamer and Truman schools — were completed on time and within budget.

In order for the $149 million bond to pass in May, at least 13,057 people need to vote, with at least 60 percent voting to approve the bond.

School board president Ed Barney said that if the bond doesn't pass, the district will still need to pay to make repairs to deteriorating schools. That money would come out of the general fund, which would mean cuts to educational programs, extracurricular activities or staff positions.

T.M. Sell, a political science professor at Highline Community College, said that a major challenge of May elections is getting the required voter turnout. Someone who opposed an issue could affect the outcome by simply not voting.

Even folks who don't have school-age children can benefit by supporting school bonds, Sell noted. Property values increase with nicer schools, he said. And the children in school now are future members of the community, voters, employers and employees.

Election officials remind voters that mail-in ballots must be postmarked by May 15. The postage cost will increase by 2 cents on May 14, one day before ballots must be postmarked.

Bond facts

The $149 million bond measure will be presented to voters May 15.

The bond is the same that voters did not approve by a required super-majority in November 2006.

The bond would rebuild five aging schools: Lakota Middle School and Lakeland, Panther Lake, Sunnycrest and Valhalla elementary schools.

The district’s transportation center, central kitchen and maintenance facilities would be rebuilt and relocated to an area near Celebration Park.

The bond would trigger $20 million in matching funds from the state to provide improvements to 23 Federal Way schools built before 1990, with the exception of Federal Way High School. Renovations would include repairing items such as heating, roofs and plumbing.

The district plans to complete the projects by 2013.

The bond would maintain the current property tax rate at $4.19 per $1,000 valuation of property as previous bonds expire. If the bond fails, the tax rate would drop about five cents, district chief financial officer Sally McLean estimated.

For more information about the bond, visit www.fwps.org/info/bond or e-mail bond07@fwps.org.

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