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Resurrected school bond headed to April ballots

EVERETT - After the Everett School District’s capital bond failed in February, the Everett School Board unanimously voted last week to put the same $259.4 million bond package on the April 22 special election ballot. 
“We talk about that notion of community stewardship and we are charged at this point in time… to not kick the can down the road,” board member Ted Wenta said. “The notion that we would delay a decision as costs continue to escalate just does not seem to make fiscal sense.”
Public comments from eight community members urged the board to put the capital bond on the ballot and to seek the same amount of money. 
Darla Contreras, a mother of a student at Cascade High School who voted “no” in the February election decided that she would change her vote for the April measure after attending multiple meetings. 
“I found it to be very enlightening,” she said of the meetings. “I’m still not happy about how the (Community Resource Center administration building) came to be, but you can’t punish children… It’s time to get over it and move forward.”
The administration building stirred controversy over what some residents consider to be an exorbitant $23 million price tag, and some critics say it scuttled the February bond. 
“I believe that the district has been very good stewards of our public funds,” said John Dickson, a community member on the capital facilities advisory board. “There are already some hard decisions to reduce the size of the bond (that the district is asking for) and I feel that what’s left on the bond is important … Strong schools is good business.” 
If the bond passes, homeowners’ taxes would stay at the 2013 rate of $6.55 per $1,000 of assessed home value, said district facilities director Mike Gunn. And while taxes would decrease if the bond failed to pass, the taxes would go up in the future as the district compensates for the lack of funds. 
The bond, which requires a 60 percent passage, failed in the February election by less than two percent.
Following the bond’s failure in February, the district had the option to ask voters again in April, August or November with potentially a different bond package. 
Board member Caroline Mason was concerned that an August ballot wouldn’t allow for the same ability to reach voters as during the school year and with a November bond would get lost in the hustle of the general election. 
The district’s project list includes a new high school, rebuilding North Middle and Woodside Elementary schools,  additional classrooms to reduce class sizes and a technology upgrade. 
The largest projects in the bond is the first stage development of a new high school in the southern part of the district. 
“Those students aren’t going to disappear because we don’t build the school,” board president Pam LeSene said. “There are a lot of things we can do, but the students are still going to be there. We need to make sure that we do the right thing.”
Smaller class sizes are important, said the sole student in attendance at the meeting. 
“The distance between you and your teacher is getting farther and farther,” said Zach Anders, a junior at Cascade High School and school newspaper editor. “As a student who struggles with math, I know there’s that need for one-on-one time.”
The bond would also fund building a new elementary school, securing land for a 19th future elementary school and fund additional classrooms for four elementary schools.
“Five schools are overcrowded as it is,” LeSesne said during a Feb. 24 workshop.
North Middle School will receive a large remodel, which is drastically needed, said Ed Glazer, a teacher at North Middle School. 
Students walk between classroom buildings in the rain during bad weather; the remodel would put all the classrooms under one roof.
“Today was a good day at North,” Glazer said at the Feb. 24 meeting. “Today was sunny so students didn’t get soaked as they walked between classes.”
Most days, he said, students and teachers can’t stay dry as they walk between classrooms. 
“But what really hurts the most, is that they see what other students (at other schools) have and don’t think that they’re valued that high,” Glazer said. 
The bond had passing rates above 60 percent in the south end of the Everett School District, which extends down to Mill Creek, but failed to pass the 60 percent threshold in the north and central parts of the district, according to elections data provided by the district.
The board’s vote to go for the April ballot was 4-0. Board member Carol Andrews was not present for the vote.

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