Letter to the editor: Vote no on Feb. 11 Edmonds School District bond and levy

Editor:

Over the next few days every householder in the Edmonds School District will receive a ballot for an Edmonds School District bond and levy with ballots due by Feb. 11. This nearly three-quarter-billion-dollar proposal is an unprecedented number that will result in significant increases to your Snohomish County property tax bill that you will receive next month and for every February for the next six years.

We all want to have a strong school district that meet the needs of our students but enough is enough. This Proposition 1 Bond request ($600M) plus Proposition 2 Technology Levy ($96M) that if passed will make Edmonds and surrounding areas even more unaffordable due to taxes. This proposal is more than double what Edmonds District voters passed in 2014 even though the district student enrollments have increased at less than 1% each year and in 2018 actually decreased.

I urge every homeowner in Edmonds, Lynnwood, Woodway, Brier, Mountlake Terrace, and unincorporated Snohomish County to vote no on these 2 measures when you receive your ballot. The district must be challenged to resubmit a reasonable proposal that meets critical needs but does not force residents to pay this level of property taxes.

Tom Nicholson
Concerned Edmonds resident of 35 years

24 Replies to “Letter to the editor: Vote no on Feb. 11 Edmonds School District bond and levy”

  1. Glad this got posted, I was about to write a letter to the Editor myself, but it would have said things a bit differently. My experience with Edmonds schools goes back 20 years. When retiring I volunteered to do math tutoring. The new to me “fuzzy math” great experience. That lead to working in the technology area and when the kids said “lets just google that” I said what is google! Several projects later, I worked on the first technology levy that produced better results at a lower cost than our neighboring districts. The 2nd tech levy was equally efficient. Now we need to keep that ball rolling.

    Next up I was lucky enough to work on the enrollment forecast team. Very complete study showing not only how many kids we can expect in the future but also the distribution of where they will live and the impact on the existing schools. It is not a question of “if you build it, they will come”, they are coming, and we need to prepare.
    About 2 years ago I leveraged the enrollment study knowledge and joined the team that evaluated the current facilities. We visited almost all the school, saw some 50yr old building that it is a wonder the staff can make it work. We also looked at the latest schools and learned that our money is being very wisely spent to develop buildings that can be adapted to the changing needs of education. Saw all the overcrowding in the K-6 schools with portables everywhere. Saw schools that just do not function well, (kids sitting in halls because no space to do out of class room work).

    The most important, yes, the most important thing this bond issue will do is allow the district to move to the K-5, 6-8, and 9-12 model. We are one of the last districts to go to this more efficient model. When you see the forecasts by school and reduce the kid count based on moving 6th grade to middle school the pressure for space is less at the elementary level. This bond allows for the growth of middle schools and that will help off load some kids from elementary.

    The team looking at schools identified way more needs, (not wants) than is being funded with this bond. While the state is taking over more funding for “basic” education using our taxes, we are allowed to raise other moneys locally for things like special ed and nurses and other things the state does not fund. The buildings are a local responsibility and we are really lucky the district has the land to accommodate these needs.

    As one who got a good public education and managed to move up the latter a bit because of that education, I would urge everyone to look carefully at what this bond issue is trying to accomplish and then decide on the merits of the case.

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    1. Darrol, are you the Mr. Haug that worked for the Bell system many years ago. I too, worked there and was interested to chat with you if you would care to respond.

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      1. Yes, that’s me, I still have a landline! Just send a note the Teresa, our publisher, and she can send you my email.

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  2. Both proposals are over the top and need to be trimmed to more reasonable expectation and outcomes.

    Vote NO and come back with new reasonable Education levies!

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    1. Hi DW, I worked on both the enrollment team and the bond team. It took more than two years to do both. ESD gets most of it revenues in one of 3 ways. 1. From the state via McCleary stuff. $15k/kid. We pay property tax to the state do provide most of the revenue for this funding source. 2. Local levies for “extras” like nurses, special education, councilors, debate club and sports. I think the state allows that levy to be $2500/kid but not positive without looking it up. 3. Construction Bonds to build and improve schools. The Bond issue for Feb 11 is for $600m. The need is greater but ESD did not want to ask voters for the full need, they wanted to keep the rate at or below the existing rate. (Yes with the same rate, some people will pay more) The current tax base of the ESD district is about $32B and City of Edmonds is about $11B of that or a full 33%. If the tax base we larger, the rate needed would be lower and show would individual taxes but the growth that is coming is not yet here.
      This bond besides building some new schools will allow the ESD to move toward a K-5. 6-8, and 9-12 model. Today is a K-6, 7-8, and 9-12 model. We need more middle schools to make this happen but this model will reduce the enrollment pressure on the Elem schools and create less demand for portable classrooms. The middle schools are needed to move along with the savings that it will bring.
      The Bond team looked at the “what if it does not pass” idea. Other districts were forced to do another election as soon as they made some decision about amounts for the second elections. Most districts reduce the amount a bit, resubmitted it to voters and the yes votes went up. There are a least 3 problems with that approach. 1. We actually need more than is being asked for at this time. 2. We need the middle schools. 3. By lowering the amount people will “believe” “see they did not need what they were asking for in the first place” “If we vote no they will reduce it”. All 3 issues are problems and hopefully we will not have to do it that way.
      Last point is the Bond team looked at various ways to use the “revenue model for bond repayment” to see what could be done in this low interest market. We also looked at what is the typical increased cost to build a school now or the same school 5 years from now. Today is cheaper than 5 years from now. So the basic plan is to borrow the money earlier in the 6 yr time period covered by the school bond and build the schools earlier vs later. We get more for out money doing it that way and we get the needed schools earlier vs later.
      So yes we can vote no now and force another election but it would really be false to believe we would be getting the best bang for the buck doing it that way.
      Kids need a place to sit, in a school designed for todays safety and teaching environment. A yes vote does all that.

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  3. Mr. Nicholson makes great points without attacking education. Some of us have been voicing and thinking the same thoughts now for years. We simply can no longer afford this district. Additionally, after reading the tax statement the ESD could arguably be the single largest offender of helping displace senior’s and others from their homes. Edmonds, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace, Woodway, and Lynnwood are all feeling the same property tax bind due to accelerating property values in our region and school district taxes. Now the district wants more.

    The ESD and board don’t seem to get it. Time after time the solution is to just throw more taxpayer money as a solution. The solution, poorly timed, is now to once again ask for bond and levy money. Recent trigger pay issues amounting in 800K additional output of money further indicate the need for complete fiscal overhaul. When the kids are out of control with spending you regulate the allowance.

    Unfortunately, to achieve some sort of accountability the only alternative is to vote no for needed change.

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  4. The levy will, bottom line, provide money that has been lacking from our schools for many years. It’s no secret that our schools are underfunded. These dollars that we pay are investing to secure an educated voting population in our future. If we don’t invest in these local kids now things will continue to be a struggle in our schools. The money has got to come from somewhere, so either we pay it now, with another future tax, or suffer in the future with a less informed population who is only able to pass a standardized test and fail to be able to think critically due to lack of funding in these program areas which aren’t math and reading (the focus of standardized tests). I get it, we’re all paying to live in an expensive area that didn’t used to be that way, but the schools aren’t the place to continue to underfund. Vote to pass the levy.

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  5. Schools are not frivolous in their levy decisions. It costs them money each time they have to file a new levy or capitol improvements campaign. We cannot afford to go another round. Schools depend on our support. We will be the ones depending on the students educated in these schools to support us.

    About half of our schools are 50 or even 60 years old. They lack basic energy efficiencies, making them expensive to maintain and operate. Improving structures with greater energy efficiencies will save in the long run and we all benefit from that.

    Additionally, new schools will be safer and more secure for kids.
    New schools also bring new well-paying jobs to the community.
    New schools are good for the local economy, and will attract more families and increase our tax base. This means better services for everyone.
    Schools are not what is driving up costs of living as much as development that drives up real estate assessments
    Bottom line, education is the foundation of our democracy and essential to our national security.
    Vote “YES” for our kids, “YES” for our community, “YES” for our neighborhood, and vote yes for a solid foundation for the future.

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    1. How much did the new Mountlake Terrace Elementary, Lynnwood Elementary and Lynnwood High School cost? Are we building “good” facilities or will only campus complexes that most junior colleges would envy work to show we love kids?

      Mountlake Terrace went through something similar with the new Town Hall Complex; took 3 votes across a number of years to pass as the cost dropped from $30 mil then $25 mil dream designs to a more functional $10 mil that could have been proposed from the beginning.

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      1. Anthony A. Elementary schools cost between $40-50m. for 500 kid capacity. Around $90,000 per chair. As a member of the study team we talked with the builders, project managers and architects. Things are not gold plated but they must be built to meet the needs. Not sure of all the town hall stuff but the cuts may well have been good trade offs. Cities may not be as skilled at building facilities because they don’t do it often. The professional staff at EDS do a great job of getting the maximum out of our construction dollars.

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  6. The proposals for overhaul of the aged buildings has been worked on for a long time by a large team of stakeholders from the district and involved community members. While our economy is doing well and interest rates are low, it makes sense to move forward to be able to get rid of our inefficient buildings. We will then see a energy cost savings in ongoing facility costs as well. It is my understanding that this is a replacement levy in part so that the increase in our taxes will be modest. Last year my taxes went down significantly so I believe that with the increases from this levy, it will be up to where it would have been. Investing in education is always beneficial for a community’s future! Vote YES!

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  7. Given the recent McCleary increases over the past couple of years, it never ceases to amaze one how the Educational Bureaucratic Complex always needs more more money.

    And the supporters….they must have money trees with lots of cash to burn!

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  8. Just got a call from the school foundation urging a yes vote by Feb 11. Not sure the robo call will go to everyone in the district or some subset of voters. But one of the most important principles in our society is we all should vote. We are better if all registered voters would take the time and energy to sort out the issues and then vote what we think is best. I think the bond requires a super majority (60%) but the levy can pass with a simple majority. There is also a requirement to have the total vote to be some percent of the last general election. Any body know that percentage and what it would take for this ESD election? I recall it to be 40% of the last voter election?

    What that would mean is something like this: Numbers are estimates to help us understand how our system works.

    EDS registered voters 100,000. estimate but using the percentages below will illustrate the point.
    ESD voters in the last election at 30%???, 30,000. It would be higher in a Presidential Election (yes Matt I know we do not have national elections we have state elections to elect those folks to vote for president, sometimes following the will of people and sometimes not. SC will sort that out.)
    Needed to validate is 40% so that would be at least 12,000 total votes.
    Of those 12,000 total votes 7200 would have to vote yes.

    What this means is a voter turnout of 12% all voting yes would pass the bond.

    The voting system is messy and can be “gamed” in a number of ways. Got to get the proper turn out and got to get those who do vote to vote by super majority. I you want to defeat this measure you can do the math, assess the risks and decide is it better to vote no and be counted in the vote count or just not vote hoping the 40% turnout does not happen. Too many ways to manipulate the system.

    In “civics” class, those many years ago, we were taught to vote, it was our civic duty. It would truly be nice if we did get 100% turnout and in my opinion a 60% yes vote would help ESD do their job. The 100% turnout will not happen so we will just have to wait and see.

    If the bond fails, ESD will have decide what to do next. Same amount, different communications plan. Lower amount and cross fingers folks will say yes (by the rules). The lower amount will cut needed work.

    The next issue would be when to have the next election. Before the 2020 general election and use all the issues stated above. Or have the vote at the same time as the GE. Big turn out so the 40% is not issue, but will that bigger turnout vote 60% yes? Any election after Feb 11, we will all know our current tax bills. That may influence how we vote on the next election.

    Here’s my bottom line based on visiting new and old schools and seeing first hand the needs. If I could take anyone through those visits I know the yes votes would far exceed 60% by a WIDE margin!! If you saw first hand how cost effectively we are building new schools that can be reconfigured as needed, you would be very impressed on what and how we are construction the new facilities. If you saw first hand some of our older, less secure, poorly configured for today’s needs buildings it would want you to get out your own wrecking ball and rebuild it.

    It would be wonderful for 100,000 of us to vote and vote 95,000 yes. That won’t happen, but if you did what I did for my research the vote would be 95% yes.

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  9. I encourage everyone to please vote. It is also an advantage to have the 2020 property tax information in front of you before making a choice. Good news, that information is now available for your property on the county website. I heartily recommend everyone check this information. For example, our total property tax bill went up $472 for 2020 taxes due from 2019. An easy way to use to check, if you need it, is to login to Zillow. Put in your property address and scroll down to tax information click it and then click on county website.

    Thank you all for checking before making a choice.

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  10. Mike it right the assessments are on line. The county assessor web site has and interactive map that you just look on the map, pick out your property and you will see the total assessed values of land and building. You will also see where you taxes go. What you will not see is how much we pay for EMS and fire services. It is part of the city tax but not separately identified. This is the tax the city has budgeted to raise but the tax itself does not show on you tax statement.

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    1. Just to clarify, there is an EMS tax that is included as part of the city taxes assessed on all properties and there is an expense for fire services that can be viewed in the city’s budget.

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  11. Thanks Mike…checked it and YIKES! And the proposed over-the-top school levies will add even More Taxes…

    I will definitely REJECT…

    School Board and all responsible parties need to come back with a reasonable set of levies…we do not have money to burn!!!

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  12. I support the school bond and levy issues 100%. The schools have been underfunded for many years. The price to pay (taxes) is nothing compared to the benefits gained (better-educated children). The Edmonds School District has always been a good custodian of our funds, and our children deserve adequate facilities and support.

    Vote yes!

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  13. WA is #42 in national rankings of high schools; that’s almost at the bottom. What would be the use of throwing more money at that? MA is #1; maybe the people running WA schools should find out how MA got to #1 and copy that. Throwing more money at something like that is just foolish; it will not result in better educated kids. I used to work for several state agencies for many years, so I have an insider’s view of how wasteful and corrupt these agencies are. Having seen it with my own eyes, it boggles the mind. WA schools (and other state agencies) need a thorough financial overhaul, frequent audits, capable leadership with a proven track record. Last but not least they need discipline in the schools; discipline doesn’t cost anything and brings amazing results — just ask the military. I have employed the products of some of these schools around here: Try getting them to write a simple sentence with a subject, verb and object. What you get is a jumble of words, several misspellings, and wrongly applied punctuation. This abysmal performance will not improve with more levies being approved. There are schools in third-world countries where pupils sit on the floor and several grades get taught in the same room, and they learn more than pupils in WA. More money is obviously not the answer.

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    1. You make many interesting points, but I for one, would also like to know what you feel is needed to get better results. This is not a criticism of your post – but what should we be doing?

      I’ve taught in storage rooms, in a hallway, and had a friend who had a class in a large van while the building was being finished – so I know much can be done with little if need be. But what should Edmond be doing?

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  14. Also, when analyzing your tax statement for 2020, currently available on the county website, property owners are supporting education both in the Edmonds School District and in State amount as well. These two numbers are the largest on the statement and support education. I urge everyone to take a good look at these numbers as well the entire tax statement and everything supported before making a decision on how much additional is fair and equitable to all property owners.

    Please vote. Thank you for taking the time to analyze this very important decision.

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  15. To get back to Nathaniel Brown’s question (sorry for the delay): What should Edmonds be doing to get school standards up? Well, I don’t have all the answers, but after five decades of observations I’d say it’s a gradual lessening of standards that has wrought this mess. It probably started in the 1960s or ’70s, I am not sure, but we have arrived at a point where hardly any standards are being enforced, certainly not on the state and local level. It’s down to the lowest common denominator! It started with a lowering of grooming standards, discipline standards, a myriad of behavioral standards that no teacher wants to enforce any longer. Sit up straight and pay attention in class? Don’t talk unless asked? Don’t text or check your email? Is that still a standard? Oh, and the endless diversity debate. Just about any standards teachers/principals try to enforece are now labeled “discrimination.” One lawsuit after another; that gets expensive; it’s easier to just give in. Just like water runs downhill, people take the path of least resistance to make their own lives easier. Wouldn’t you? That’s the way I see it, lack of enforcement of basic standards needed to foster a learning environment that yields tangible results. Maybe that’s what they meant by “getting back to basics……” It took a long time to reach #42 out of 51 in school rankings, and it will probably take a long time to bring it back up.

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  16. I want to thank everyone for voting NO on the Construction Bonds. The gentleman was correct above in stating you need to go to Zillow put in your address and check your current tax statement. The Edmonds School District is your highest cost. After discussing the issue with several professionals several items were brought up. The most important is that school buildings do NOT make the student, much like apartments, school districts could use the same generic plans across the board on similar schools instead of starting from scratch each time, they do not need to be architectural wonders. Kids can learn as long as the environment is clean and warm. One of the oldest buildings on the UW campus was built in 1895 and is still in use today.

    We also have to look at the future. As technology grows will schools need to have the current lay-out? Will schools become more like colleges with hybrid classes? Perhaps we will need larger classrooms with education monitors and instructors since all students have laptops and are moving to more individualized teaching with technology?

    Last but not least what the school district fails to recognize is that when you raise property taxes you are negatively affecting the home life of the very students you claim to be helping. With 30% plus of our households living pay check to pay check that $250 a month just may be food on the table for some of those families. So what is the most important? A new school or a family life that isn’t just struggling to survive?

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