News

School Board split on bond

By ELIZABETH CIEPIELA

Staff writer

The decision on whether to retain the original 1999 voter-approved Federal Way Public Schools bond proposition is set for Feb. 10 –– just one week after two school district levies appear on the ballot.

Federal Way School Board members met Monday for a work-study session on the 1999 proposition. No decisions were made during the meeting.

While middle school reconsideration is still in the early stages, some board members have indicated where they are leaning on the issue.

Evelyn Castellar, who took office last month, said it’s her obligation as a board member to make sure public funds are used wisely.

“To spend $17 million dollars (approved for a middle school in the 1999 bond vote) and put our district into more debt is irresponsible,” Castellar said. “It’s distressing me because I want due diligence and I think we need to review. I just want to make sure that the public funds are used where they’re needed.”

But board member Bob Millen supports the original plan.

“Unless there is something that comes up that would be very obvious, I think we should continue on with the plan,” Millen said. “I haven’t heard anything yet that would cause me to go against the voters’ wishes. Obviously, we do owe it to voters to reevaluate and examine it.”

Board member Earl VanDorien Jr. also supports the original plan to build a new middle school.

“I’m not in favor of diverting voter-approved bond money without voters reapproving that decision,” VanDorien said. “If we do, then I don’t look for our Feb. 3 levies to even remotely pass with this type of bait-and-switch on their money.”

“It’s always appropriate to evaluate years’ -old decisions. It’s never appropriate to divert this money from a middle school that was promised to voters. And it’s still needed. If the school should not be built, then we should submit the question back to the voters and let them decide.”

While board member Charles Hoff maintains he hasn’t made up his mind, he did send board members a document suggesting alternative uses of the $17 million, including turning an elementary school into a middle school, creating a specialized school “much like Tacoma Music and Arts school.”

Board member Ed Barney said he is undecided. But he did add, “Just because we have the OK from the public to build it, if we don’t need it, then we would not be spending the money properly.

“As far as I’m concerned, I have made no decision. I am open to building a new middle school. I am open to new options.”

Most of the $83 million of the 1999 general obligation bond proposition has already been spent on various projects, including the construction of Todd Beamer High School and the new Truman Center alternative high school, among others.

The bond fund allocation and budgets were determined before the 1999 proposition appeared on the ballot. The district’s chief financial officer, Sally McLean, said the breakdown for bond money allocation was included in district literature and pamphlets.

Only the $2 million reserved for “non-high school additions” –– and the $17 million set aside for construction of a new middle school –– remain from the original bond project and its budgets.

If board members ultimately decide to reassign the destination of that $17 million, state law mandates the money can go into only capital projects.

Staff writer Elizabeth Ciepiela: 925-5565, eciepiela@fedwaymirror.com

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