News

Money will stay with middle school

By ELIZABETH CIEPIELA

Staff writer

In a unanimous vote, Tuesday the Federal Way School Board passed a motion which does away with alternative capital uses of the 1999 bond money.

The question is no longer one of finding the best way to spend the $17 million. Now, the question is when to build a new middle school.

The current timeline slates the school to open for in 2005. The board voted that the school district sell the bonds to build the school –– or not sell the bonds at all.

The motion was inspired by a statement issued by board member Bob Millen, who was out town the evening of the board meeting: “Unless there is new and obvious information that would cause me to change my mind, I will not change my stance to support the new middle school.”

On that premise, Millen’s note recommended that if the middle school is not built, the bond money should not be sold for other capital uses. The other three board members present Tuesday agreed.

District superintendent Tom Murphy clarified his own perspective on the appropriate way to spend the bond dollars at a media briefing Wednesday, saying, “I think that the middle school should be built.”

He added that the issue facing the School Board now is to determine whether the district still wants and needs –– as determined by the board in 1999 and authorized by voters — smaller middle schools.

Although the debate and decision facing the board is much clearer now than it was several weeks ago, board members continue to disagree on when the school should be built.

Earl VanDorien Jr. argued that if the decision to build the middle school were postponed past the projected opening in fall 2005, interest rates on the $17 million dollars will rise, thereby increasing the amount of money the district collects from taxpayers to pay off the inflated interest rates.

“I still believe voters want the school. I will vote to build the school on time. If we don’t, as I pointed out, the school will likely cost more to build,” VanDorien said.

District chief financial officer Sally McLean said, “It’s reasonable to expect to see interest rates start to go up again because the economy seems to be nationally, if not locally, in a recovery.”

But she added, “Until you actually sell bonds, you don’t know what the interest rate is actually going to be.”

Board member Charles Hoff said he voted to approve the build-or-not-build motion because further research convinced him that the district’s building maintenance projects will take a lot more than $17 million. Hoff said capital maintenance projects was the only alternative he had considered in lieu of building the middle school.

“It just seemed like the public would be better-served to limit our discussion on whether to build the school or not, rather than come up with a number of alternate alternatives,” Millen said when reached by telephone the day after the board meeting.

He added that he’s pleased the other four board members voted to approve his recommendation.

And finally, board member Ed Barney said, “The idea of shifting the bond money for uses other than the constructino of the middle school was only an alternative suggestion, not the answer. After reviewing the input from (district officials), it did not remain a viable option.

“Building this school has become an emotional issue for many. I cannot rely on emotion to make my decision. I have to look at the bottom line.”

A community forum to discuss the middle school will be held Jan. 12 at Saghalie Middle School from 7 to 9 pm. A board work-study session on the issue is scheduled for Feb. 2 at the district’s Educational Services Center. The time hasn’t been determined.

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

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