In the largest voter turnout in the county, Vashon Island School District’s proposed $26.9 million school bond failed to achieve the 60 percent supermajority needed to pass in the Proposition 1 election.
Had the bond passed, it would have funded construction of a new track with a synthetic turf field, renovations to the gym, construction of a second gym, and other athletic facility improvements, as well as maintenance projects across all the schools in the county. The bond also set aside $1.86 million for much needed repairs and renovations required in the district’s schools.
Community activist Hilary Emmer believes the bond failed because it was too expensive, requiring a $228 raise in property taxes per year for a $460,000 house. Opponents of the bond also felt the board rushed the decision, failing to properly involve the community in its plans. However, it was the proposed improvements to athletic facilities that drew the most criticism.
Proponents of the bond argued the school district is in desperate need of these new and renovated athletic facilities. All of Vashon, and not just the students, could benefit from a new track and field and gym, and new and renovated facilities would help promote healthiness across the entire community.
Now that the bond has failed, the question remains on where the board goes from here. The district intends to bring a revised version of the bond for vote as early as November 2016. Vashon Island School District Superintendent Michael Soltman is confident the community will support a revised bond, noting the last election did receive a majority vote, with a 53.5 percent approval rating.
However, 53.5 percent is far from the 60 percent supermajority needed for a bond to pass, stated other members of the Board, such as Dan Chasan, who thought the bond too costly from the start. As of yet, there is no set date on when a new vote might take place.
The board must now address how to fund the estimated $4.5 million worth of Priority 1 repairs that cannot wait until a new vote. The most likely candidate for urgent renovations and repairs is the district’s Capital and Technology Levy. The current levy is due to expire in 2016, and currently brings in $900,000 per year by charging homeowners 37 cents per every $1,000 of assessed value of their home.
Only $130,000 of the levy goes to improvement projects, while the rest funds technology projects. Board chair, Bob Hennessey, suggested using less of the levy to pay for technology and more on repairs. However, other members of the board note the limited technology budget is not enough as it is, and the school district is already taking donations from the Gates Foundation just to meet basic technological needs.
The board then has three options to compensate for the failed bond: to leave the levy as is, increase the levy, or adjust the levy for inflation. Adjusting would bring in $1.2 million a year. Whatever the board decides will be scheduled for the April special election ballot.
In the wake of the failed Proposition 1, the community remains divided. Many residents are angered the bond failed to pass. In one letter to the editor of the Beachcomber, a resident claimed ‘the gentrified, self-absorbed rich enclave’ were to blame, people who were more interested in keeping taxes low than helping the children or the community. Others were saddened by the bond failure, believing and improvement to athletics facilities would have encouraged the island’s youth to engage in sports, and could have helped keep the children off the streets. New facilities would have given Vashon’s youth something to do in a community that is otherwise bereft of attractions.
Opponents of the bond are arguing that the proposed bond was indeed too expensive for taxpayers, and that property taxes have already doubled in the last eight years alone. These same community members further argued that the new facilities were unnecessary or unneeded, especially the plans for a new gym. Many of the high school’s attendants already opt out of gym because they play in sports, and the island offers plenty of exercise opportunities, such as hiking and kayaking, for those not involved in sports.
Others in the community are not surprised the bond failed to reach supermajority. These members feel the board lost credibility when its $49.6 million school bond passed under the promise that Building A would not be torn down. The building was later demolished, and rebuilt, leaving some voters feeling betrayed. It may be a long time before these islanders trust the board enough to pass a new bond.
Whatever the solution may be, the only way to resolve the issue is for the community to work together with the board to create a new bond proposal, one that will please at least 60 percent of voters.