Sequim schools eye survey for facility needs, community interest

SEQUIM — After four failed school construction bond attempts in the past two years, Sequim school leaders are seeking a fresh look at the issue.

The Sequim School Board voted 3-1 Monday — with board member Heather Short absent — for a $15,500 contract with CFW Advisory Services LLC of Spokane to conduct a random sample telephone opinion survey of district voters on possible capital improvement projects and how to pay for them.

“At this point, the only survey we’ve been using to this point is at the polls,” Superintendent Gary Neal said.

“I don’t think we can continue to have bond [votes] as a scientific survey.”

Mike Howe, who provided the lone vote against the contract, questioned whether it was the best use of school district funds.

“I don’t think there are going to be any surprises in a survey like this,” Howe said.

Neal said the hope in doing the survey is “not so much about information we don’t know but [getting] a better predictor of what a community will support.”

He said the survey would include at least 375 phone calls to get a viable sample. CFW Advisory Services also would make recommendations for the district’s next steps.

“In all my time here . . . we have not had someone outside of us offer a different view,” said Beverly Horan, board president.

“They also come back with an action plan.”

After a $154 million construction bond proposal failed in April 2014, the school district offered three more proposals to voters: a $49.2 million bond plan in February 2015, a $49.3 million plan in November 2015 and a $54 million bond proposal in February 2016.

The latest proposal would have funded a new elementary school; added general education classrooms at Greywolf Elementary School, science classrooms at Sequim High School and new choir and band rooms at Sequim High; and remodeled the school district’s kitchen, which services each of the schools.

Each of the three recent proposals gained at least 57 percent of the overall vote but fell short of the 60 percent supermajority required for passage.

Robin Henrikson, board vice president, said she wished the district had hired a similar group prior to the previous bond failures.

“My social scientist mind is saying, ‘We need to have an expert come in. They do this for a living.’ ”

Beyond the bonds

The school district also is considering the formation of a task force consisting in part of community members to address facility issues. Howe said he’d like to see the task force’s focus be beyond facility uses.

Neal said feedback from district listening sessions, in which the public was invited to talk about its preferences, is helping build a bigger sense of what the community wants even beyond another possible bond vote.

“There is a contingent of community members who were excited and willing to help out. I want to take advantage of that,” Neal said.

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Michael Dashiell is an editor with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at mdashiell@sequimgazette.com.

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