Federal Way school board to vote on $450 million bond for ballot

Two separate kindergarten classes share one room at Wildwood Elementary.

Multiple entry points into Brigadoon put children at risk.

Nearly 20 of the district’s 39 schools are older than 40 years.

And Federal Way Public Schools is currently over capacity by 1,000 students.

These are just a few reasons Superintendent Tammy Campbell along with a 100-member Facilities Committee will recommend the district’s school board approve a resolution on June 13 to put a $450 million bond proposition on the November general election ballot.

While the bond will rebuild aging schools and provide more space for a growing student population, Campbell said it won’t greatly impact voters’ wallets. That’s because it doesn’t propose a tax increase.

The district estimates if the bond is passed, taxpayers in Federal Way will continue to pay $2.05 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. This means, a homeowner with a $250,000 home currently pays $512.50 a year, or $1.40 a day, toward paying off old bonds and the high school levy. That amount will stay the same if the bond is passed and the property owner’s assessed valuation stays the same.

“We’re able to do this and come up with a financial package that builds on our financial stability,” Campbell said, adding the district has been good stewards over past bonds and is preparing to pay them off in addition to Federal Way High School’s six year levy passed in 2012.

Money from the bond will be used to rebuild eight schools: Thomas Jefferson High School, Illahee and Totem middle schools, and Lake Grove, Mirror Lake, Olympic View, Star Lake and Wildwood elementary schools. All of them were built between 1956-1971. Memorial Stadium, built in 1971, will also get a makeover.

“Sometimes people say, ‘My house is over 40 years old. What’s the difference and why can’t a building last for that long?’ ” Campbell said. “What they need to understand is that buildings, because of the number of occupants in a building, the wear and tear on a building is exasperated and, more importantly, the needs of our kids have changed.”

Campbell said the new elementary schools will accommodate up to 600 students. Currently, some are able to serve that number, but many can only hold 450 students.

“We’re land-locked,” Campbell said. “There’s no new land around to build new schools on, so we’re going to take our current elementary schools that need to be rebuilt and rebuild them, and they’re going to be newer, bigger and more modern facilities.”

The district has been addressing the growth by adding portables. Campbell said in one case the district has resorted to “dismantling” a computer lab for additional space.

“There’s just a lot at stake,” she said. “We can’t keep portable-ing this problem. We’ve got to start expanding our schools and modernizing our schools.”

Lake Grove Elementary Principal Doug Rutherford said the school has a “phenomenal” custodial staff that does a good job of keeping the school in good condition, but the building is old.

“The heating of our classrooms is very inconsistent,” he said. “We have classrooms that are unable to access the Internet. We’re not set up for the technology of the current age.”

Illahee science teacher Sher Stultz said age has had an impact at that school, as well.

“Things are just falling apart,” she said. “The bricks, the mortar, even the equipment within the school is getting tattered and old. Basic equipment like sinks don’t always work. There’s plumbing issues. The school is deteriorating.”

A student at Thomas Jefferson High School said the school’s outdoor campus makes going to school in the winter a challenge. When he does have to walk outside, his backpack gets soaked, he gets wet and it makes it hard to get to classrooms on time if he has to use the restroom.

While only eight schools will be rebuilt, if the bond passes, every school will get a boost.

Sally McLean, the district’s chief finance and operations officer, said with each voter-approved bond, the district will receive School Construction Assistance Program funding provided by the state.

Approximately $90 million of SCAP funding will upgrade security measures, such as installing keyless entries, provide more parking, put schools on a “desired” roof-replacement schedule, upgrade boilers and update athletic fields.

“A lot of our community uses our athletic fields for after school and on the weekends, so it’s not just Celebration Park that supports our community with athletic fields,” McLean said.

SCAP funding will also be used to relocate and rebuild Mark Twain Elementary. The district signed a memorandum of understanding earlier this year to do a property swap with King County Metro and Sound Transit for the school because of the potential impacts Federal Way Link Extension’s route through Mark Twain’s playground could have. The light rail project is expected to be complete in 2024.

“No bond, no $90 million, this doesn’t happen,” Campbell said. “And because we haven’t passed a bond, we haven’t had the money to maintain our buildings at the level of all these other districts. When you look at Highline, Kent, Auburn, Tukwila, everybody, they’ve passed bonds for their school districts.

“They’re modernizing their facilities,” she said. “They’re adding classrooms. We must pass this bond for the city of Federal Way and its homeowners to have the kind of school system that alleviates crowding, ensures we have the best learning environments, raises their home values, when it happens, but more importantly, we know that adds to the desirability and livability of a city when you have high quality facilities.”

Deputy Superintendent Dani Pfeiffer said district officials solicited the community and researched data before settling on this solution. The Facilities Committee has met since last October to analyze various data points, drafted a preliminary recommendation and hosted five community forums for feedback on that recommendation.

The group not only toured the schools but had two third parties assess each building’s conditions, as well, using criteria established by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction for building assessors.

“OSPI contracted with Washington State University to do a random sample of not just our district but other districts, so they came in and evaluated building conditions,” McLean said. “… It’s rater reliability, so we can assure our taxpayers we’re not over inflating the condition of our buildings either saying they’re better or worse and that’s been validated by two independent third parties on building conditions.”

In 2004, the schools were ranked in four phases. The assessors re-evaluated where those schools fit within the ranking by measuring building conditions and learning environments. From the research, Decatur High School, Kilo and Sacajawea middle schools, Brigadoon, Woodmont K-8 Adelaide, Camelot, Lake Dolloff, Nautilus K-8 and Twin Lakes elementary schools are scheduled for the next phase, whenever that may be.

“We’re telling you we’re 1,000 over, and we’re only adding 1,000,” Campbell said. “Here’s the truth: You cannot get out of this. We haven’t had a bond since 2007. It’s going to take us more than one bond measure to get out of the hole we’ve gotten ourselves in because we have a limit on how much we can borrow and we have a limit on how many buildings we can actually build in a certain amount of time.”

Pfeiffer said the school district’s student population is growing by about 1 percent each year.

If the board green lights the bond resolution for the ballot, the district will need a super-majority for it to pass. That means, not only must 40 percent of voters vote on the measure, 60 percent of those votes must be “yes.”

“That is the hill to climb,” McLean said. “Most people aren’t voted into office with a 60 percent ‘yes’ vote.”

If the bond isn’t passed, Campbell said the district will continue to bring it before voters until it is approved. It is allowed to run it two times per calendar year.

“We’ll keep running this. We don’t have a choice because we’re growing still,” she said, noting it takes two years to build an elementary school. “We’re going to run out of room because … that pushes it out to when we can actually start addressing the crowding and building buildings.”

Campbell said the community’s fingerprints have been all over the bond recommendation, which can be seen in the bond’s informational tagline: “Our community, our investment, their future.”

To learn more about the district’s bond recommendation and the data on building conditions, visit www.fwps.org, click on “Our District” and then “Capital Projects.”