District wants $299 million
By Lindsay Peyton
A group of students and their families from Highline Public Schools stood on a street corner in Burien on Monday, Oct. 24 waiving signs that read “Vote Yes!”
Yet their support of the school’s proposed budget has not come without challenges.
Among those supporters of the upcoming bond, which is up for a vote on Election Day, was 17-year old Benji Box, a senior at Highline High.
Even though Box is graduating next year, he wants the next group of students to enjoy the benefits of the improvements that would take place if the bond is approved.
“I think we need a better school for future students, so they can be ready to go to the next level and be prepared to do whatever they want after they graduate,” he said.
Box does not believe that the existing campus will stand the test of time. “It’s just an old building and it doesn’t have the infrastructure it needs,” he said.
The $299 million bond would address a number of similar needs throughout the district,
Highline spokeswoman Catharine Carbone Rogers said.
The proposed bond is based on recommendations developed by the Capital Facilities Advisory Committee, a 39-member, community-based group that assessed district needs.
The committee recommended reserving $93.3 million for a new middle school on the district’s Galcier site, $49 million for a new school on the district’s Zenith site to house Des Moines Elementary students and $103.3 million for a complete remodel of Highline High.
The proposal also calls for $18.5 million in improvements to the Olympic site so it can be used to house students during construction projects, as well as $14 million for building design of upgrades to the Evergreen, Tyee and Pacific campuses.
The bond would also set aside $19 million to replenish the capital fund and $2.65 million for security improvements to all campuses.
Carbone Rogers explained that the tax impact of the proposed bond would be an estimated 79 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation.
She said the funding would cover needed expansions to ease overcrowding.
“We have been experiencing growing enrollment for several years,” she said. “We have 2,500 additional students coming in the next 10 years and will need 80 more classrooms. We have to do something to create space for all the students we know are coming.”
Carbone Rogers said the district has been using portable buildings to accommodate growth for a while.
“In many places, we have the maximum number of portables allowed under city code,” she said.
Carbone Rogers added that capacity is still limited based on common spaces on campus.
“The schools are built for a certain amount of students,” she said. “If you have more, it overwhelms the core facilities – restrooms, cafeterias and hallways.”
Enrollment projections are based on demographic studies performed by a third party, Carbone Rogers explained.
“We haven’t passed a bond in 10 years,” she said. “Our capital fund is almost dry. It will be gone by the end of the year.”
Carbone Rogers said that if the bond does not pass, any emergency repairs would be paid out of the district’s general fund.
“We would be taking money that could be spent in classrooms, if we had to repair a roof or broiler,” she said.
That’s a risk a number of residents would rather not take, according to Chad Harper, who lives in the area. He served as a member of the Citizens Facilities Advisory Committee and as a Yes for Highline volunteer.
He explained that a number of the schools have structural issues. “This is just something that has to be fixed,” he said. “These are not conditions children can learn in.”
Harper believes that the bond focuses on the most critical needs of the district.
“I don’t have children yet, but this is the district where my kids are going to go,” he said. “And I want it to be the best it can be. Our schools should be the crown jewel of the community.”
But a number of residents are also speaking out against the bond.
Bob Pond, who lives in Des Moines, voiced his concerns at a recent city council meeting in Burien.
“This is the third time that Highline school district has asked us for similar bonds.,’ he said. “They’ve failed two times. How many times do we have to say no? This is no time to stack bonds on top of bonds with no end in sight. “
Karen Steele, with Sensible Spending on Schools, believes the price tag for the bond is high.
“Originally the administrator wanted $378 million and didn’t get it,” Steele said. “Now she wants $489 million — split into three bonds, all to be passed within six years.”
Steele said her main concern is accountability. “We don’t know where the money is going,” she said. “They’re very secretive.”
Steele also questions the ability of the district to manage the appropriations wisely. She said that administrators are pointing to structural problems in schools – but fired 33 maintenance workers and six painters, who could have kept campuses in better shape.
“Highline School District let the paint peel,” she said. “They let the roof leak. Why didn’t they fix it? It’s the same with the mold and the rodents. Why didn’t they fix it?
It is the school district’s responsibility to give children a clean environment in which to learn.”
Steele said that the district has simply not been a good standard of past budgets. “The administration gets the raises and the assistance they need, but our teachers and our children go wanting,” she said. “Where’s the transparency?”
More than anything, Steele wonders if the community can afford the raise in property taxes that would come with the bond.
“The most important question is how much can the Highline community afford,” she said “It has never been asked, and it should be the very first question on the agenda.
I support a no vote until we have accountability, responsibility and transparency for our hard-earned tax dollars. People are tired of being taxed to death without getting the accountability they deserve.”
Voters will decide the outcome during the election on Nov. 8.
For more information on Highline Public Schools, visit www.highlineschools.org.