Schools superintendent: Proposed bond measure would make room for future students, upgrade aging facilities

Edmonds School District Superintendent Kris McDuffy speaks to the Mountlake Terrace City Council Jan. 6.

With a plan that includes a new elementary and middle school, plus a new building to house Scriber Lake High School, the $600 million construction bond measure appearing before Edmonds School District voters Feb. 11 is aimed at addressing projections that the district’s enrollment will grow at a rate of 1% annually for the next 15-plus years.

That was the message delivered by Edmonds  School District Superintendent Kris McDuffy during a presentation to the Mountlake Terrace City Council Jan. 6.

In her council presentation, McDuffy noted that while the proposed $600 million levy amount “on the surface sounds staggering,” the proposal stems from a comprehensive review of both enrollment projections and current facilities. A district facilities and bond committee, comprised of 45-plus staff, community members and students, spent 18 months visiting all of the district’s buildings “to determine if they were meeting students’ needs and if not, what upgrades were needed,” she explained.

A report prepared by the committee concluded there are about $1.7 billion worth of needs across the district, which will take many years to address. The $600 million measure is the first of three bond proposals likely to come before voters between now and 2032. With bond proposals on a six-year cycle, the next one would appear on the ballot in 2026.

In addition to the capital bond, the district is proposing a $96 million replacement technology/capital levy — which renews existing levy assessments — to be collected over four years. This levy would be used to provide one-to-one computers in grade 2-12 and two students to one computer in grades K-1, along with online curriculum, other software systems and instructional systems. The levy will also support classroom technology, teacher training and support, and internet access to students who do not have internet at home.

McDuffy said the bond and levy proposals meets the school board’s mandate “to keep a level tax rate based on assessed valuation.” According to the school district website, the district estimates the combined rate for all the district’s tax measures for 2021 will be $3.69 per $1,000 of assessed property value — the same as the current tax rate.

“It’s our duty to put the story before the voters and let them decide, but make sure they know about the needs,” McDuffy said.

The district website lists the main projects that the bond measure would cover, but “every school is being touched in one way or another,” she said. One of the biggest changes incorporated into the proposal is the addition of a fifth middle school — at the former Alderwood Middle School site in Lynnwood — which means the district will be moving to a grades 6-8 middle school model.

The reason for this change, which represents a major shift from the district’s grades K-6 elementary and grades 7-8 middle school? McDuffy explained that the district’s elementary schools are now running at about 107% of capacity, which means that the school board was faced with a dilemma. It could propose adding up to five new elementary schools, a difficult proposition without owning existing land on which to place them  — or it could advocate for moving the district to a grades 6-8 middle school configuration, which is now the norm local and nationally. “We’re one of the last districts to have a 7th-8th middle school model,” she said.

She noted that having a two-year middle school isn’t ideal, as it doesn’t allow administrators and teachers the time to develop relationships with their students. In addition, she said, learning standards and curriculum are geared for a K-5 elementary and 6th-8th grade model.

“It’s a big shift for us as a community,” McDuffy said, “but (we) believe wholeheartedly that that’s the right thing to do for so many reasons — not just space driven but it has to do with learning as well.”

Placing the district’s fifth middle school at the former Alderwood Middle School site makes sense because the district owns the property, and “it’s actually in the logical location for both density and projections for growth,” the superintendent said.

In addition, the bond proposal calls for adding a new elementary school on property the district owns just south of Lynnwood High School — “the first new elementary in a long, long time,” she said. The new elementary will be located in the district’s northeast quadrant, where the highest growth is being experienced.

The bond measure also calls for providing a new building for Scriber Lake High School, now co-located with Edmonds Heights K-12 on the Old Woodway campus in Edmonds. Scriber “serves such an important need in our community,” McDuffy said, adding it provides an option for students who are not comfortable in a traditional high school setting. The plan under the bond proposal is to move Scriber to a multi-story building that will be constructed behind the school district administration building in Lynnwood. While primarily a home for Scriber, that building would also house some ancillary programs that have not yet been determined, she said.

Other major projects that would be completed under the construction bond proposal include new buildings for the aging Beverly and Oak Heights elementary schools and College Place Middle School, plus phase 2 of new construction at Spruce Elementary. You can see the complete list of school improvement projects included in the proposed bond here.

McDuffy, who has served as the district’s superintendent for nearly four years and is retiring at the end of this school year, said she has “mixed emotions” about retiring. But after 37 years in education — 17 of those as a schools superintendent, “it’s time to do something different,” she said. The school board, with the help of a search firm, is conducting a search for a new superintendent. Applications for the position close Feb. 1 and the board hopes to make a decision by March 1, she said.

— Story and photo by Teresa Wippel

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