News

Anti-bond voters didn't like its cost and size

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

Jim Knapp was surprised last month when the $245 million capital bond for Federal Way Public Schools failed.

And he voted against it.

The defeat surprised not only Knapp, but School Board members and supporters of the bond.

Why Knapp and more than 53 percent of the school district’s voters nixed the bond in the Feb. 7 election is the question the board wants to find an answer to at a study session next Tuesday. The elected officials are going to consider different ways to get that information.

The $245 million bond –– the biggest in the district’s history –– would have replaced six schools and built a new central kitchen, bus barn and maintenance departments. It would also have paid for the construction of a new stadium across the street from Celebration Park, an environmental education center next to Sequoyah Middle School and a performing arts center at a rebuilt Federal Way High School.

The district needed 60 percent of the voters to approve the bond.

Board members and district administrators said the existing buildings needed to be replaced because they were no longer serving the educational needs of the students and teachers. Also, the buildings were costing more to maintain and repair each year. Having new buildings would mean money could be directed to students rather than repairing the heaters in their schools.

After the bond failed, several people, including Knapp, wrote letters to The Mirror explaining their reasons for voting against it.

For those interviewed for this article, the basic problems were the district asked for too much and seemed focused on items not directly related to student education –– specifically, the performing arts center, the stadium and environmental center. Board members said this week they have heard similar sentiments in telephone calls, e-mails and conversations around town.

“We’re not trying to be anti-schools, believe me,” Jeremy Spencer said.

Spencer, his wife and a few friends all agreed they would vote against the bond. They talked about the bond at length, he said, and all came to the same conclusion that it wasn’t meeting the needs of students.

“Address the needs, not the wants,” Spencer advised.

Rather than spend money on a performing arts center and relocating the stadium, the district needs to spend money on newer textbooks and lowering class sizes, he said.

Knapp said he felt the same way after learning about the bond from a neighbor. Admittedly, he wasn’t paying much attention to the issue until the neighbor contacted him. When Knapp saw the dollar amount, he said, he couldn’t believe it.

“Pure pork,” he said, describing the bond’s performing arts center, stadium and environmental center.

Knapp said two things finally convinced him to vote against the bond: An opinion piece in The Mirror making the case the schools would be secondary users of the arts center, and his son’s social studies textbook.

In his letter to the newspaper, Knapp related a conversation with his son who asked him what was the USSR. When Knapp asked him what provoked the question, his son showed his textbook –– published in 1988, with the USSR in it.

“Christmas shopping list” is what board member Ed Barney has heard the failed bond called by critics.

Based on e-mails, letters in the newspaper and some conversations he’s had around town, Barney said he concluded people didn’t like the bond because of the non-school-related buildings and cost.

Board member Charlie Hoff said that while he had “a whole stack of stuff” from people who opposed the bond, he thought many didn’t understand what could and couldn’t be paid for with the measure.

The bond can’t pay for more textbooks, he said, but if the bond passed, the district would have to spend less on maintaining buildings and could direct it to paying for new books. The money for maintenance comes from the same account that pays for books, he noted.

Hoff and board member Evelyn Castellar reported they have also heard people essentially saying, I told you so. Since the bond failed, Castellar said she has received e-mail and letters opposed to the bond and telling her the critics had correctly predicted the bond’s defeat.

Before the board put the bond on the ballot, she suggested the district spend more time researching the issue, talking to citizens and breaking the bond up so the schools would have a chance to pass on their own, Castellar said. She wasn’t surprised the bond failed, as people weren’t pleased with additional buildings, she added.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, mhalliday@fedwaymirror.com

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