Public will answer $245 million question


The Mirror

The largest capital bond in Federal Way Public Schools' history is a go.

Voters will get to make their marks in a special election Feb. 7 on the $245 million proposal to rebuild one high school, a middle school and four elementary schools. The bond would also pay for the construction of a new stadium, a performing arts center, and nutrition, transportation and maintenance facilities.

During its meeting Tuesday, the School Board, which has been supportive the whole time, unanimously approved the bond be on the ballot next year.

Board member Ed Barney said earlier in the day the bond was needed because the school district hadn't put the necessary money into keeping buildings well-maintained. Now the older buildings can't handle growing enrollment.

If the bond passes the voters' muster, it means those who own land will see an increase in their property tax rate. Property owners in the district currently pay $4.30 per thousand dollars of assessed property. That is expected to increase to $4.85 should the bond pass.

However, school districts ask taxpayers to approve a dollar amount, not a tax rate. As more people move into Federal Way and buy property, the district would continue to collect the same total dollar amount –– the $245 million bond –– but property owners' tax rate would decline because their new neighbors would be helping pay a portion of the total dollar amount.

Board member Evelyn Castellar asked to delay Tuesday's vote by two weeks to but didn't get the rest of the board to agree. She said she supports the bond but felt citizens needed more time to give their opinions on it.

Before Tuesday's decision to put the bond on the ballot, district superintendent Tom Murphy gave several public presentations and the district took citizens' feedback.

The bond is the largest proposed capital project in the district's history. Federal Way has spent just a little less over the last 20 years in capital bonds than what it is asking voters to approve.

The new bond would take place over a period of 10 years, with the debt being retired in 30 years.

Federal Way High School, Lakota Middle School and four elementary schools –– Valhalla, Lakeland, Panther Lake and Sunnycrest –– are on the list, along with the centralization and construction of the district's nutrition, maintenance and transportation departments to one property. Also, Memorial Stadium would be razed to make room for the construction of a new Federal Way High School. A new stadium is proposeded for land near Celebration Park.

Perhaps the most controversial issue is the district's proposal of building an arts center at Federal Way High that would be for the community and school district to use. Several arts organizations have lauded the proposal, while critics have raised the question of whether it's appropriate in light of the district's elimination of elementary school music education.

The bond was created after the School Board asked the district's administration to rate district buildings on their structure and usefulness. The conclusion was that many schools were reaching the end of their lifetimes and were incapable of changing to meet the needs of students and educators.

The transportation department's location has been considered too small for the buses and other vehicles parked at the South 320th Street site. Moving it and the nutrition and maintenance facilities to a central site would give more room for all of them, district officials have said.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565,

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