Arlington schools bond falls again; can’t clear supermajority hurdle; a look at how precincts voted

A closer look at how precincts voted; help sought from state lawmakers

ARLINGTON – While Arlington’s school bond measure appeared headed for failure a third time with some ballots yet to be counted Friday, The Arlington Times analyzed precinct data to view how neighborhoods voted.

In latest results for the $96 million bond to pay for school construction and security improvements, among 7,596 votes counted by Thursday, the bond garnered 4,014 “yes” votes for 52.5 percent against 3,624 “no” votes, or 47.4 percent, short of the 60 percent supermajority necessary to pass.

A closer look at voting trends around the district found the following:

* Among the 40 precincts, nine generated “yes” votes at a 60 percent rate or higher.

* In 18 precincts mainly within city limits, more than half of voters supported the bond.

* Arlington’s 4th precinct where Post Middle School is located, 64 percent – 2 out of 3 voters – voted yes on the bond 228 yes, 125, no.

* Among 34 precincts where at least 100 residents voted on the bond, 47 percent said no.

* The biggest group of no voters were clustered in rural areas and neighborhoods northwest, north and east of urban and suburban Arlington, other than voters in the Bryant, Burn Hill and Jim Creek areas.

* Another pocket where no votes outnumbered yes votes altogether was around the Arlington Municipal Airport.

School officials weren’t ready to draw conclusions about voting results until the last ballots are counted, especially in a special election where snowstorms may have had some impact on returns, however minimal.

They do plan to regroup with community leaders to consider next steps, whether that means reviewing the bond package, looking at other alternatives to fund mounting needs, communicating those needs and tax impacts more soundly to residents, and other means.

“We’re not going to disengage,” said Brian Lewis, executive director of Operations. “We’re going to keep on encouraging feedback from the community.”

Bond dollars would replace the aging Post Middle School, add a new eight-classroom wing at Arlington High School, technology and arts workshops also at the high school, safety and security improvements at every school, a fire sprinkler system for Eagle Creek Elementary, traffic safety improvements for pickup/dropoff areas at Eagle Creek and Kent Prairie elementary schools, and heating and ventilation system improvements where needed.

The last time Arlington passed a school bond was for the high school in 2000. It went to voters five times, with three of the four times drawing 50 percent or more of voters before it mustered 60 percent for final passage, according to voting records.

Several school districts running bonds the past two years have been in the same situation where they can get more than half the voters to approve the measures, but not reach a supermajority.

The supermajority requirement came through a state law passed during the World War II era to provide tax relief during wartime, requiring school bonds to achieve 60 percent approval to pass.

Arlington is one of several school districts appealing to lawmakers this legislative session to make bond passage easier by requiring only a simple majority – 50 percent plus 1. That would require a two-thirds vote by both the Senate and House of Representatives, and ultimately need voters to approve a state constitutional amendment for the change.

The scenario has happened before. The state Senate in 2007 barely garnered the two-thirds support needed for a measure to allow simple majority approval of local school levies. Voters statewide then passed the amendment.

The Arlington school board sent letters recently to 39th District lawmakers asking them to support Senate Bill 5066 that would make simple majority the law of the land for school bonds, if ratified by voters.

The letter was endorsed by other districts in the 39th struggling with passing bonds including Granite Falls, Sultan and Sedro-Woolley.

“Most people support their children and are willing to support their schools,” said Marc Rosson, Arlington school board member and legislative liaison.

He argued that if the majority of people vote to support a school bond, “The will of the majority of the people should be granted.”

Rosson acknowledged removing the supermajority requirement is a tough mountain to climb. The deadline for budget-impacting bills getting voted out of committee was Friday. Estimates say the state would need to come up with an additional $2.7 billion in matching funds to help cover capital projects in districts where voters reached the 50 percent voter threshold, but not 60 percent.

“Our feeling is that it’s a long shot, but that doesn’t mean we give up the fight,” Rosson said.

To view election results by precinct, visit https://snohomishcountywa.gov/227/Election-Results.

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