Letters to the Editor

Sounding off on the LWSD bond | LETTERS

• In our work as a Redmond City Council member and as a board member of the Lake Washington PTSA Council, we’ve personally witnessed the positive effect our high-performing public schools have in our Lake Washington community. Families who could choose among many neighboring school districts choose the Lake Washington School District (LWSD) because of its impressive track record of academic success. Businesses consistently look at our successful schools as a key factor in deciding to locate and grow here.

As a result, we’ve seen explosive student growth. We aren’t just a little bit cramped for space — our schools are now overflowing with students. Our schools are expected to grow by 4,000 students in the next eight years. If we do nothing, we will see more portable classrooms on our school campuses, and we may even be forced to double-shift school schedules to accommodate overcrowding.

Right now voters in Lake Washington have an opportunity to avoid these problems and keep our schools top notch. On the April 22 ballot is a bond measure that will secure funds to build much-needed new facilities and additions, as well as renovate existing structures. Specifically, the bond will pay for the construction of three new elementary schools and one new middle school to help alleviate overcrowding. It will also rebuild or expand two high schools, and build and equip a new science and technology focused high school.

This bond is our community raising money from our members to build schools for our students. It is our community solving its own problems. Our schools and our kids should not be held hostage by national or state political fights that have nothing to do with the values of our community.

Kids can’t learn and communities won’t grow if our school system fails to provide the basic structure — the classrooms and schools — needed for learning. Our big Lake Washington family is growing. Let’s welcome and encourage that growth by investing in our schools. Please vote “yes” for LWSD Proposition No. 1 on April 22.

Hank Myers, Redmond City Council member (Position 1), Beth Sigall, vice president, advocacy, Lake Washington PTSA Council


• I look with some dismay at the rejection of the school expansion levy and the misguided derision directed at the new proposal. The proposal is barely enough to deal with the current situation, let alone rational, mathematically justified projections. First, let me provide a few facts to calibrate my position. I am an older, retired person on a retired person’s income. I own a house in the Lake Washington School District (LWSD). My children are both out of high school and all will be out of college in June. I have no students in the LWSD. My concern, nonetheless, is purely selfish.

Previously, I lived in a township in New Jersey that had a similar habit of repeatedly rejecting school levies, both operating and expansion levies, while new homes were being built at the rate of about 300 households per year for 10 years. The arguments against them there were flexible, being whatever would sell to the opposition at the minute. The result was quite easy to see in that the town went from being a “place to live” to a “place to avoid” among families. During a time when real estate was booming, and home prices in the area had risen more than 50 percent in a five-year period, the prices in the township actually dropped.

That’s exactly what is going to happen in the LWSD if this determined opposition succeeds — it’s going to cost you a lot of money in the long run. In addition, overcrowding and failing facilities started a flight of experienced, good teachers from that district, and we’re seeing the same here. That township has now recovered. It took 20 years, but the delay and hesitation cost the school board a bit more than twice the money it would have spent initially in order to achieve the same results, due to changes in bond and interest rates so that the eventual tax burden was higher. If you want to save some money, spend it now, and stop putting this necessary expansion off.

I’ve heard the “build larger central facilities” comments, and I can confidently say that the cost in transportation will eat any savings from such an idea inside of a few years, making the idea disastrously expensive in the long run. Building energy inefficient buildings will result in the same effect.

Finally, one needs only to look at the population growth in Redmond to see the need for expansion. There are no rational arguments against this levy. It is every property owner’s enlightened self-interest to make sure that this expansion levy passes, and passes by a landslide, or we’ll wind up in the same sinking boat as an unfortunate township in New Jersey, or possibly worse.

Citizens of the LWSD, please act in your own enlightened self-interest and pass this levy.

James D. Johnston, Redmond

 

• With another Lake Washington School District (LWSD) construction bond ballot coming, I have to note my disappointment in Superintendent Traci Pierce’s first reaction when voters rejected the last bond — she increased her efforts to have the state legislature eliminate the 60 percent approval requirement.

That’s disappointing for two reasons. First because it means that even with years of higher-education learning, Superintendent Pierce apparently failed to gain much appreciation for the checks and balances our constitutions, both federal and state, use to protect the survival of America’s now 238-year experience in self-government. Despite what she may feel, that 60 percent approval requirement is not there to frustrate school superintendents. Those protections exist because the people learned over time that excessive property taxes could literally tax families and businesses out of their homes and businesses. So they put a constitutional limit on total property taxes to protect the people, and then allowed that for any governmental body to raise property taxes ABOVE that one percent constitutional limit required a 60 percent voter approval.

We also need to remember that while voters can adjust school levies every four years, the last bond issue was a 28 year debt commitment on every property. Few of us will even be in our current home by the time a new bond program is paid off. I’d say that 60 percent approval requirement is a wise safeguard.

The second reason I was disappointed in our superintendent is because she is responsible to see that our children also learn about our national and state constitutions and the laws that protect our freedoms so we pass that legacy to the next generation. If she doesn’t appreciate those safeguards, it’s hard to see how our future leaders will.

Eric Rohrbach, Redmond

 

• The Lake Washington School District (LWSD) was told by the public in February of this year that they were not interested in financing a $755 million bond for new schools. My expectation as a parent and voter was that rejection of the bond measure would lead the district to examine spending and re-assess capacity needs. However, rather than follow this logical approach, the school district returns to the voters two months later to try again. How many times will they do this? What happens if this new bond measure fails? Can we expect another vote this year? The district now seeks a new bond for about half of the original amount, with an intention to seek the other half in 2018. Coming from an institution that educates our children, I find this especially disingenuous. I teach my child that no means no. If they ask for five cookies now and I say “no,” I’m not going to suddenly give in when they propose three cookies now and two cookies later. The district has shown no restraint in their abject desire to extract as much money as possible from the taxpayers, while making no effort to find cost savings or to explore other options to accommodate growth.

As a fact, the LWSD is currently under capacity. The district “estimates” that growth will occur in the future, surpassing current capacity. But what happens if the growth doesn’t occur? Taxes associated with an approved bond will be extracted from taxpayers for the next several decades, regardless of whether actual growth occurs. What happens if another recession hits and growth doesn’t occur? The answer: the district will continue to extract money from taxpayers and will construct schools with the money, because by state law it can’t be used for anything else. Without growth, we may be stuck with unneeded schools all while paying off millions in bonds for the next two decades. There is no contingency plan with this bond measure if the ‘expected’ growth does not occur.

Interestingly, local jurisdictions collect impact fees from new residential development. These fees are reserved for only one thing — creating new school capacity. The fees are directly tied to growth within the community. The district has made no effort to seek an increase in these fees, instead coming back to the taxpayers. If the district were to seek an increase in impact fees to better fund new schools, money would only be collected if the growth occurs and not a dime in interest would be paid.

As much as I loathe the district’s second request for bond money, I find the public supporters of the district and their proposed bonds equally tactless. Anyone who dares question the district or shows opposition to the bonds is labeled as someone who doesn’t care about kids, or someone who is fine with children being educated in a brick schoolhouse with a wood burning stove. I care deeply about my own children and want the best education for them, but I also understand that if we don’t ever say no to a greedy institution such as the LWSD, that they will continue to build overly-expensive schools and never look for ways to save money or do things more efficiently. I had thought that the public had finally said no back in February, but here we are again. The district must be forced to look for other ways to accommodate growth. And if forced, they will find ways. Let’s make them do it — vote “no.”

Trevor Keith, Kirkland

 

• I support the School bond and believe the guest author of April 4 has his facts and math wrong.

First, Lake Washington School District schools can’t be compared to the poorly-designed schools in the Monroe School District.

The Monroe School District suffers from a lack of community support for bonds to build new schools. The budget compromises and restricted choices Monroe has been forced to make should not be a model for Lake Washington.

The new Monroe High School is disappointing. The school was partially built in 1999 with a $24 million bond. Its last section was completed in 2005 financed by a second bond for $4.7 million.

Now, nine years after its completion, the high school uses eight portables for classrooms and the main building is still overcrowded. The industrial arts and the physical education spaces, the hallways and cafeteria are especially crowded. Athletic fields are subpar.

Also, no one likes that the school looks an awful lot like the nearby prison.

Additionally, a recent school inspection reported that the “cost consciousness (of original materials and construction) is showing.”

The district is facing limited options for improving the high school.

To learn more, visit the facilities page of their website at www.monroe.wednet.edu.

Second, the $404 million bond most certainly can be financed and retired over 20 years and 25 cents per $1,000 assessed value is not the bond’s annual interest rate.

Since 1998, voters have approved three property tax increases for financing school construction projects. These tax revenues pay the interest and principal on two bonds and a construction levy that have financed 22 school modernizations, a new STEM school, and additional classroom space.

As a result, in 2014, the combined property tax for these capital projects and the debt service is $1.31 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Currently, about a quarter of this tax revenue pays down the construction levy and the rest for outstanding bonds.

For the proposed bond, the school district worked with bond underwriters to determine the annual payments.

The district and the underwriters reviewed existing payments for the other bonds and levy, noting when these loans were scheduled to be paid off.

A payment schedule for the proposed bond was set so that its payments increase as the other bonds and levy are retired. The net effect is to keep the annual total property tax rate for capital projects and debt service at an acceptable level.

All five elected School Board members reviewed and approved the financing plan for the proposed bond.

Visit “Five Facts about Funding New Schools” at www.lwsd.org.

If voters approve the proposed bond, the total property tax rate for capital projects and debt service will only increase by 25 cents next year, from $1.31 to $1.56 per thousand. This annual rate won’t change much until decreasing to about $1.40 per thousand in year 2022.

The annual share of the tax revenue to pay the new bond will increase as the old bonds and levy are paid off, allowing the new bond to be paid off in 20 years.

So, the 25 cents per thousand is a net increase next year in the total property tax rate for capital projects and debt service, and not a permanent annual rate for the new bond. It’s incorrect to use this net increase of 25 cents per thousand to calculate the payments needed to pay off the proposed bond.

Finally, LWSD is a good fiscal manager. See the state auditor’s report of May 28, 2013.

Barbara Billinghurst, Kirkland

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