News

School bond hopes flattened

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

The word of the week for Federal Way School Board members: Disappointment.

They and other supporters of the defeated Federal Way Public Schools $245 million capital bond all used "disappointment" at some point to describe their feelings on the outcome of Tuesday's vote.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 52.7 percent of the more than 14,000 voters who cast ballots were in favor of the bond. That might sound like a win, but school districts have to get a super-majority of voters –– at least 60 percent –– to pass a bond or levy.

Bond supporters expressed frustration with the Legislature for keeping the super-majority requirement in the state's constitution.

"I think it would be interesting if elected officials had to get 60 percent" to win elections, said board member Ed Barney, who was re-elected last November with 49.8 percent of the votes.

If it had passed, the bond would have paid for the construction of six schools to replace ones the district labeled as having reached the end of their usefulness. Along with replacing Federal Way High School, Lakota Middle School and Panther Lake, Valhalla, Sunnycrest and Lakeland elementary schools, the bond would have also paid for a new central kitchen, maintenance center and bus barn. Additionally, a new Memorial Stadium was planned for a spot of empty ground across from Celebration Park, a performing arts center would have been built on the new high school's campus, and an environmental studies center would have been created adjacent to Sequoyah Middle School.

A study of the schools in the district revealed many were antiquated for the needs of educators and students. While structurally sound, the older structures and their aging heating, cooling and lighting systems were costing the district thousands of dollars per school, officials said.

A study session for the School Board to go over the election results is scheduled for 6 p.m. March 7 at the district's administrative office. Board members hope to hear from citizens who didn't support the bond and their reasons.

Randy Kaczor, principal at Federal Way High, said he was surprised at the outcome because he hadn't heard a lot of opposition to the bond. When he telephoned people encouraging them to support the bond, all he heard were supportive responses, he said.

That was a comment many made when interviewed after Tuesday's loss.

Speculation why the bond failed resulted in different notions.

Federal Way's usual problem of a lack of cohesion was the reason the bond failed, School Board member Charles Hoff said. The 60 percent requirement didn't help, he added.

"I think people are tired of taxes, No. 1," and the 60 percent rule limits a successful outcome, said board member Tom Madden.

More emphasis might need to be placed on people living in apartments and seniors to register to vote and cast their ballots, Kaczor said, adding that many students at the high school live in apartments.

"Maybe we're a little out of touch" with homeowners, Madden pondered.

Key groups need to be asked why the bond didn't pass, according to Audrey Germanis, president of Citizens for Federal Way Public Schools, a volunteer organization which ran the bond campaign.

By key groups, Germanis said, she meant parents of future students at Federal Way High, senior citizens and absentee voters.

The latter group is where support for the bond fell, she said, adding, "There must be a reason."

The performing arts center, while widely supported by members of the arts community, was something of a target for bond detractors.

If it becomes clear an aspect of the bond was the reason for its failure, the School Board might have to consider revamping the proposal, some supporters said.

But there wasn't a large number of opponents or an organized block of nay voters. Otherwise, the board and the bond campaign could have addressed those issues before the election, Germanis said.

Maybe since test scores are up and the high school looks acceptable from Pacific Highway South, people think "it's all good," Kaczor said.

Board member Bob Millen said while he was surprised at the result, he didn't want to speculate on the reason for the loss until he had more information.

None of the bond supporters interviewed post-election thought the bond's price tag –– the largest in district history –– scared off voters or was the reason they marked "no" on their ballots.

Publicity also apparently wasn't a weak point. "We did a lot of publicity on this," Hoff said.

While the loss on Tuesday stung, supporters were already planning to bring the bond back. "We'll be back with something," Hoff said.

Germanis anticipates it being on the September ballot.

"It's an investment in the community," Madden said.

District superintendent Tom Murphy left town Wednesday to attend a family function out of state and couldn't be reached for comment. Board member Evelyn Castellar also was unavailable Thursday.

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

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