Arlington’s $96 million schools construction, student safety bond in voters’ hands

ARLINGTON – As Election Day Tuesday approaches, the fate of a $96 million school construction and safety improvements bond measure now rests in the hands of Arlington district voters.

If approved, funds would be used to build and renovate school facilities, and improve security across all of the district’s schools.

John and Kimberly Meno, co-chairs of the Citizens Committee for Arlington Schools, said the group has campaigned vigorously to reach and educate residents.

“The bond is an investment in the future for students, parents, community members and business owners,” John Meno said. “We need to provide a safe, secure and effective learning environment for our students.”

Bond dollars would replace 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 improvement for pickup/drop off areas at Eagle Creek and Kent Prairie elementaries, and heating and ventilation system improvements where they are needed.

The total local schools tax rate upon bond approval, which includes the $1.50 state education levy, will be lower than the 2018 rate – $2.92 down from $4.68.

Taxpayers now paying $1.37 per $1,000 assessed property value toward Arlington school bonds would increase to $1.42 starting in 2020 and stay at that level to 2040. For a $350,000 home, the amount translates to $497 a year, $17 more than the current year. Homeowners can use a tax calculator to see what they will pay by visiting the district website at https://www.asd.wednet.edu/bond.

“This is a great time for us to do this,” said Brian Lewis, district executive director of operations. “The opportunity is here to address building needs without increasing taxes from the 2018 total tax rate.”

The school board also approved establishing a bond oversight committee to make sure the district spends the money the way it was intended.

That panel will involve parents and community members in the decision making to ensure accountability and fiscal transparency, and build community trust, said Superintendent Chrys Sweeting, who championed the cause.

Approval of the bond by voters will also mean the district will receive $11.5 million in matching funds. Those can be used for projects that were removed when district leaders trimmed the bond amount to $96 million from $107.5 million in the two previous elections when more than half voted “yes,” but not a 60 percent supermajority required by law.

Supporters said property values increase and homes retain their values in communities that support public education, plus doing so is a “pay it forward” nod to past generations that passed their bonds to keep schools thriving. From an economic development standpoint, companies want to move to communities that invest in themselves.

Arlington High School is expecting 362 additional students by 2022, just from the students who are already enrolled in our elementary and middle school buildings. The additional classrooms and instructional spaces funded by the bond are important to meet the needs of students already enrolled.

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