Arlington to look at another possible school bond

ARLINGTON – After vigorous efforts to tap into the minds of Arlington voters, the School Board at its meeting on Monday will hear recommendations that could bring a schools construction and safety improvements ballot measure back for a second try.

“We looked for all ranges of opinion, from those who supported the bond, those who didn’t, and those who did not vote in the (February) election,” said Brian Lewis, Executive Director of Operations.

The district’s $107.5 million bond to build and renovate school facilities and improve security failed to gain the required 60 percent supermajority for passage in a special election in February, yet it garnered 55.06 percent “yes” votes.

The last bond would have funded replacement of Post Middle School, and a new wing and technology and arts workshop to Arlington High School, along with field improvements, security and environmental control improvements at all schools, classroom audio upgrades at all elementary schools and other enhancements.

While school administrators were disappointed with the outcome, said Brian Lewis, executive director of Operations, they opted to pursue options, reconvening the district’s facilities advisory committee and reaching out to community members to drill down deeper into how the district can state a stronger case for building needs that are not going to go away.

Survey highlights

In a survey conducted by Seattle-based Elway Research to gauge community opinions about a bond, the district and community in general, there were several key findings:

* Most Arlington residents (65 percent) were upbeat that things would go better for them in the next year or so.

* Graded Arlington Public Schools a “C+.”

* Four of the 11 improvements were seen as needed by most respondents.

* Opinion was divided, but 48 percent of respondents said they would “definitely” or “probably” support the bond measure, while 41 percent said they oppose or probably oppose it.

In the results, safety and security improvements stood out as the highest priority.

The poll also suggested people would more likely vote “yes” on the bond measure knowing that classrooms were being added for skilled labor and technical training, and that the tax rate for homeowners won’t increase if the bond is approved.

Focus groups

During small focus groups hosted by the district in April and May, officials said several common themes emerged that could help the district better inform voters about the bond:

* Provide more clarity on tax and funding issues associated with schools.

* Keep bond mailers easy to read.

* Acknowledge face to face conversations as a primary means for information.

* More videos to illustrate conditions within school facilities.

* More emphasis on state matching funds and senior exemption.

* Cost estimates by school.

* Keep the focus on Post Middle School replacement, and safety and security improvements for all schools.

* Consider scaling back the bond to not include classroom amplification, the covered bus area and athletic improvements.

* Explain improvements more fully at the newer schools.

Lewis said the next opportunity to take the school bond to voters is Nov. 6. However, the ballot is expected to be thick with Congressional, state representative and supreme court justice races, and a slew of citizen-driven signature initiatives, with junior taxing district issues such as school bonds at the end of the ballot.

The next special election dates to hop on would be in February and April 2019.

Many other districts’ bonds and levies across Washington failed to pass in February, too.

The district’s hasn’t taken a school bond to voter for 18 years.

The board will meet at 6 p.m. in the Board Room at the Administration Office, 315 N. French Ave.

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