SEQUIM — The need to pass an educational programs levy might supersede the drive for new school building construction in Sequim come next November.
Less than a week after passing on a recommendation to put a $55 million bond proposal to voters this November, Sequim School Board directors declined to revisit the plan at its Aug. 1 meeting.
The item appeared on the meeting’s agenda but was removed before the board approved that agenda.
With the district seeking renewal of its EP&O (Educational Programs and Operations) levy set to appear on ballots in February of 2017, the bond proposal might get pushed back into late 2017, Sequim School Board President Bev Horan said.
On Aug. 1, she said that board directors want to take a closer look at both details and timing of the proposed bond and the district’s EP&O levy.
“That [EP&O levy] is a huge amount of our budget going directly to our students — we can’t put that in jeopardy,” Horan said.
The district could run a special election soon after the February vote, an April, but that vote would come around the time people are paying federal taxes (in 2017, on April 18), Horan said.
At a board workshop July 27, board members expressed concern that the $55 million bond plan price tag might be too steep for voters, and that a contentious November general election might not be the best time to run it.
Board Vice President Robin Henrikson noted then that more time could give board members the opportunity to become more unified.
“Then we can put together a plan we can feel good about,” she said. “I think we can have a timeline for projects. We can come up with a plan; now we have the time to do it.”
Voters have rejected four school construction bond proposals in the past two years, with the previous three — in February 2015, November 2015 and February 2016 — gaining at least 57 percent of the overall vote. School construction bonds must meet a 60 percent super majority for approval.
Sequim schools Superintendent Gary Neal said the $55 million bond proposal plan is substantiated by four public listening sessions, multiple coffee chats and individual conversations, plus a survey of 400 district residents completed recently by CFW Advisory Services LLC of Spokane.
The bond proposal drafted by CFW Advisory Services LLC sees its biggest expenditure at Sequim High School, where $25.1 million in costs is planned to add a two-story structure math and science building to replace six portables now housing the math department and an aging building now housing four science labs. The plan would add a band and choir room to the main campus.
It also includes funding for rooms and significant upgrades to the current Helen Haller Elementary School and, in an effort to relieve overcrowding districtwide and immediately at Helen Haller, adds a new 14-classroom facility to be constructed next to the choir, band and gymnasium facility across from the Sequim Community School.
Previous proposals sought to build a new elementary school east of the main district campus.
Four classrooms would be for kindergarten students while four others would be dedicated for special education classrooms and the rest for general K-5 education.
The new facility also would have administrative spaces where parents and visitors sign in; provide office, work and meeting space for teachers and staff; and add a nurse’s office for the students.
“Every year something doesn’t get done, our kids fall further and further behind,” Neal said. “They are in a dire spot right now. I don’t have much tolerance for that.”
Upgrades at Helen Haller are expected to cost about $7 million, while the new 14-classroom facility for existing and future K-5 students is expected to cost about $12.3 million.
The plan also includes $5.5 million in classroom, security and utility improvements at Greywolf Elementary School and $1.5 million in classroom and security upgrades at Sequim Middle School.
“It’s our responsibility to this community and more importantly to the students to provide them with safe buildings [and] tools for 21st-century learning,” board member Jim Stoffer said. “I think this proposal is … providing those tools.”
In all, the bond proposal would cost $55 million plus interest: $59.3 million in original costs, minus $4.3 million in state funding provided to the district for tearing down the unused portion of the Sequim Community School and building new classrooms.
Horan said she appreciated having an outside source to get a new look on the capital projects issue.
“We looked at using all of our facilities,” she said. “[The plan] uses those buildings. We see that we can [repurpose] buildings.”
Board director Michael Howe urged the board to take their time over as many as three or four meetings, to consider other ways to fund construction — from capital projects and technology levies to legal action that could free up state timber sale funds or other state funding sources.
“I’ve been in education a long time — I can’t depend on the state for any money,” Henrikson said. “I think we should keep advocating and keep trying.”
In other board action last Monday, directors agreed to:
• Accept a letter of resignation from Nick Parks, Sequim High School history teacher and junior varsity softball coach, and
• Approve a renewal with food services company Sodexo America, LLC.
Michael Dashiell is the editor of the Sequim Gazette of the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which also is composed of other Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News and Forks Forum. Reach him at [email protected].