Edmonds School District forum focuses on building upgrades that $180 million capital levy would fund

During a community forum Tuesday night, Edmonds School District spokesperson Harmony Weinberg explained the 2021 Capital Levy.

The Edmonds School Board Tuesday held a brief community forum aimed at explaining how funds from a proposed $180 million capital levy in late April would provide much-needed school district building upgrades, address capacity challenges and improve existing facilities.

In January, the district announced it would be seeking voter approval of a proposed capital levy during the April 27 special election. If approved, the levy would provide $30 million per year for six years to replace Spruce and Oak Heights elementary schools, maintain existing school buildings and athletic fields, and make district-wide accessibility improvements.

Prior to the presentation, district spokesperson Harmony Weinberg explained that the state does not provide adequate funding for capital facilities. Instead, districts are allowed to ask for local assistance via voter-approved levies and bonds. Weinberg then stressed that the district was not making frivolous requests and that the needs were dire.

“These are specific needs…in our buildings,” she said.

After two years of analyzing its facilities, the district determined that $1.7 billion was needed for capital projects across the district. The district in February 2020 submitted a $600 million capital bond to voters that failed.

In summer 2020, the school board directed staff to review the needed improvements, costs and impacts on taxpayers. District leaders decided in fall 2020 to prioritize replacement of the aging Spruce and Oak Heights elementary schools — both well beyond their lifespan, Weinberg said.

“Our students are coming back into our buildings,” she said. “Many of them are back now (and) more of them are coming back in the next few weeks.”

Weinberg pointed out that the longer the district waits to make the improvements, the more it will cost. She also said small issues can turn into major — and more expensive — problems. According to Weinberg, necessary improvements included a roof replacement at College Place Elementary School, as the current one is more than 20 years old, and replacing the boiler at Cedar Way Elementary School, which is the same one installed when the school was built in the 1950s.

Other improvements include replacing the boiler and its 30-year-old heating, ventilation and air condition (HVAC) system at Mountlake Terrace High School. The levy would also cover replacing fire alarm panels, sprinkler systems, fencing, gates and signage and other accessibility improvements at facilities districtwide.

“That could be something like an automatic door opener to one of our buildings to help those who need that access,” Weinberg said.

Another key point Weinberg highlighted during the forum was the need to offer more space in elementary schools to address capacity issues. 

“Capacity at our schools is a challenge in our district,” she said. “Our elementary schools are at 107% capacity.”

According to Weinberg, overcrowding will likely continue with future population growth and student enrollment. To address these issues, some schools use portable classrooms called “relocatables.” Currently, there are 44 relocatables across the district, eight of which are used at Oak Heights Elementary. If the levy is approved and a new school is built at Oak Heights, the relocatables could be used at other schools, Weinberg said.

“The idea of them being called ‘relocatables’ is so we can move them around to where the biggest need is of capacity in the district,” she said.

Another example of how the district plans address capacity issues through the levy would be adding new covered play areas to some elementary schools, which could be used as an extension of a gym or cafeteria during lunch. 

One project the district is looking to complete with the levy proposal is the second phase of Spruce Elementary School. Work at Spruce Elementary’s campus was split into two phases, with Phase 1 completed in July 2019.

Entrance to one of the two new buildings on Spruce Elementary School campus completed in 2019. (Photo courtesy of Spruce Elementary School)

Once finished, Spruce Elementary’s replacement facility will be approximately 81,000 square feet with a two-story main classroom building and a one-story gymnasium and common area. Under Phase 2 construction, a new north wing of the replacement facility will be added, including a two-story main classroom building, multiple integrated learning support and small group rooms, a new library and an outdoor project area.

“If approved by voters on April 27, we would be able to get going right away on Phase 2,” Weinberg said.

As for Oak Heights Elementary, Weinberg said the building is beyond repair and it would make sense to rebuild. According to Weinberg, the school has one of the largest student populations in the district and rebuilding would allow for a greater capacity and redesign for modern ways of learning.

“Replacing schools is actually more financially (responsible) because it’s more cost effective to replace it than to just fix it,” Weinberg said.

While drafting the proposal, Weinberg said district leaders were focused on keeping costs low for taxpayers. If approved, taxpayers would pay $3.36 per $1,000 of assessed property value. 

Since 2019, the taxpayers have seen a steady decline in the amount levied against property values. In 2019, taxpayers paid $3.76 per $1,000 of assessed value, and that dropped to $3.71 in 2020.

Currently, the tax rate is set at $2.81 per $1,000 of assessed value because the 2020 bond failed to pass and the district recently paid off previous outstanding bonds. If the new measure passes, Weinberg said taxpayers would see a rate increase from this year, but it will still be lower than past years.

A Q&A was scheduled after the presentation; however, no questions were submitted.

For more information about the 2021 Capital Levy, visit the district’s website.

–By Cody Sexton

  1. Clean, solid school designs that focus on durability and open space should be considered for future school buildings.
    What happened to College Place school upgrade? It was the only project that actually improved a school that kids that actually lived in Edmonds attended.
    I said it last year….and I will repeat it again. The recent …has it been 12 years now…school bonds have not been used for upgrading any Edmonds schools.
    Instead…Edmonds has paid for Lynnwood high school..plus a few other Lynnwood schools.
    In 5 years….over half of Edmonds schools will be considered to have serious outdated facility issues. Please consider doling out future bond issues in a fair manner. And fully fund projects that voters consider important….instead of splitting improvement projects up into phases….which has to be much more expensive to complete also.

  2. Hi Richard, When the voters were given the option for the last bond issue there were a number of replacements in that plan. I worked on the enrollment study team (how many kids will live where in the next several years) and on the team that studied the need for improvements and replacements to school. We visited almost all the schools in the district and found the need to be much greater than the willingness of the Board advance in the form of a bond.

    As a citizen/taxpayer my concerns were to do what to the best job we could with the limited recourses we were going to put into that bond issue. The bond issue failed the 60% needed for passage. I think it gained 59%. The Levy approach has a 50% requirement for passage. The bond would have produced $600m and the levy will produce $180m. With bonds we could gain access to the full amount faster than with a levy.

    My work with the Architects, Contractors, Project Managers, and District folks responsible for the buildings led me to conclude we are getting great buildings for a good price and the buildings we are building today have flexibilities built in that will save in the long run.

    Most of our schools are operating above capacity. Look at all the portables. Student population is growing and for some schools it may require boundary changes to manage the growth.

    In my view the biggest single improvement that would have occurred with the bond was to move the the K-5 model instead of K-6. We are one of the last nearby districts to make that change and that would have solved some of the building issues and provided cost savings as well.

    I will be voting yes for the levy.

  3. We don’t need the Levy…money for such things will becoming D.C. in the Trillion dollar stimulus/infrastructure bills…

    1. By the time ESD gets it’s share of the stimulus money I doubt it would be anywhere near the needs as sorted out by the Bond team. Maybe we could all agree to at least “match” whatever comes from the Feds?

      1. But the fed aren’t done yet some of their infrastructure bill has more money for schools. Do you know how much we will receive from the feds? I just guessed at 80 million for the district could be much more. Could get everything paid for in the next bill depending on how well your representatives do with the up coming bill. Oh and that’s not it I here this is only half of the federal government stimulus proposals for this year. Word is Olympia has plans for numerous tax increases also. Don’t mind me it just seems some are happy to tax people out of security into dependance on the government. But I guess that is what they want is for everyone to be equally poor.

        1. Hi Jim, regardless of the source of funds the needs (not the wants) came out to be $1.7b. What that means if we could get that and spend it in 3-5 years we would then get caught up and the need would then drop to a lesser amount going forward. We will neve get that amount from Feds, State, or our own Bonds or Levys so we will always be doing catch up. There may be ways to get more utilization out of our schools with year around school year that would reduce over crowding. But we will still be using buildings that do not do the job they should by todays standards. If folks had been with the study team that looked at each school you too would see the deficiencies.

          I remember the night after visiting a school that was being use for special ed children and on the way home I was filled with emotion of how inadequate the build was for our kids. All of us would have been as concerned as I was with that visit.

      2. Thanks for the response Darrol just this levy will increase my property taxes about 1000 next year when you only have 20 thousand in income that’s a lot how about a comprise tax people making 50 thousand or more double that way you don’t cripple the poor.

        1. Below is a link for a property tax exemption for certain individuals who struggle to pay their property taxes, including seniors on a fixed income. Not being able to afford the property tax increase because you only have $20K in income is not a valid excuse to not approve this levy for the benefit of future generations. You can also visit the Snohomish County Assessor’s office for more information about a property tax exemption for those seniors with less income.

          https://snohomishcountywa.gov/DocumentCenter/View/1386/Senior-Citizen-Disabled-Person-Exemption-Program-Application?bidId=#:~:text=Eligibility%20is%20based%20on%20your,and%2For%20disability%20in%202020.&text=For%20the%202020%20tax%20year%20forward%2C%20the%20income%20limit%20increased,program%20reduces%20your%20property%20taxes.

  4. When the woke Edmonds school board voted to remove police officers from the schools we vowed to never vote in favor of anything that gave them a dime going forward. Two big NO votes from this household.

    1. A better way to penalize the Board members would be to vote them out. The kids need the buildings to get their education. None of the money in the bonds or the levy would benefit the Board.

    2. That certainly was not there students choice. It is pretty unfair to punish the students for something that the partisan school board did. The schools need to address leaky roofs and ancient boiler systems.

      The better choice would be to:

      1) support them levy for basic school repairs.
      2) require decisions based on school safety like school resource officers to be made by the students.
      3) vote out many of the current school board.

  5. There was a time when schools were being built all over the area. What happened? Where did the funding sources go? Who oversaw the money? It’s as if no agency in the state collects a dime? With trillions earmarked for the Great Reset, our schools will surely be saved by our benevolent leaders in DC.

  6. We’ve just had an unplanned and unwanted experiment in the concept of education apart from physical school facilities. I was talking to a friend the other day who said one of his grand kids, who is tech oriented anyway, loved the in home/internet approach to learning and got better grades than ever before. On the other hand another of his grands hated it and his grades plummeted.

    My point is that maybe there could be less of a need for these expensive facilities and never ending upkeep of them, if we made some attempt to profit from what we have learned from the pandemic and try to educate kids based on their varied aptitudes for the two different learning modes. This would be the time to identify the kids who might benefit from a different approach. I’d like to see more money spent on teachers and actually teaching stuff and less on the trappings of education, like fancy buildings, grand athletic facilities and bloated administration.

      1. Clinton and Michael are but a few who are looking at our issues from a “new” prospective we have all learned about things that work better or worse during the last year plus. Education is one of them.

        Our goal of formal education should be to provide the necessary tools for an adult to fully function in society. To me that means a good education. Our current graduation rate are “unacceptable” in my book. We are on a trend that formal education is now starting at age 3 with some form of preschool and really is completing now with 1 or two years beyond high school. What we have learned from studies in other states is that by creating a “plan for each child” all kids can finish their education, some just take a little longer or different paths.

        Clint point out that some kids excel at distant learning while others work better on face to face. Some need tutoring some can actually tutor others. The goal should be to create several “models or plans” that work and find away to implement them. Doing so may reduce the pressure on our existing buildings and create a complete education for all. That should be our goal.

        But until we sort out these better ways we need to keep our building in order and complete the plans for the schools in the current plan.

        We should of course talk to our elected to find better and more fair ways to pay for some of these needs.

        1. Agree. But I am making no decisions on any Levy measures until I see a lot of change around here. The way it’s going I am inclined as a DEMOCRAT to vote NO… to every tax increase. I am not a Socialist and I do not plan to be one ever. I am a Democrat and proud of it. I am proud to call myself an American. I know things are messed up in our country in mainly political ways. I know our infrastructure is crumbling. But I also know we are in better shape then any country in Europe. And Canada.
          Socialism is like the first blush of attraction…great for a little while, until it isn’t. The other Socialized countries throughout the world will tell you this themselves.

  7. Is anyone paying attention to our property taxes for levies? We pay a quarter million dollars A YEAR for Verdant but if you look at the budget online from October 2020, they paid off all of their bonds at the end of the year. If they fund their grant programs with Swedish lease money, what are they doing with our levy tax money? It isn’t going to the hospital

    1. We started our hospital district to build and maintain a hospital. Great but now that it is not ours and Swedish runs the place we do not need the taxes we pay to the hospital district for a hospital. Using our tax money for grants may be nice but our hospital taxes are not needed for the original intent.

      For schools the $30m will go to building and maintain buildings.

    2. Who knows…as usual we only speculate here. Then comes the already planned out plan…then the anger starts. Let’s change this.

  8. Darrol Haug is my friend and I know when he talks about something, he knows what he’s talking about. I do not question that the need is probably there, in even larger numbers than he is quoting, for having perfect schools for our young people. The need is not the question for me.

    The question for me is why do we keep going to the small property owners for the cash and letting everyone else off the hook – read the billionaire and millionaire businesses and private citizens who reap the benefits of a well educated populace? Bill Gates is running all over the world spreading his untaxed foundation dollars for the benefit of others. How about he and others like him be required to fund our own schools and help our own poor people first? Like get rid of the tax dodge foundations and tax their money for the public good.

    I think my no votes against any more small property owner taxation are going to do more for our young people long term than the fancy schools and high paid school administrations we have now. I’m done voting myself anymore taxes until the fat cats start doing their share in this state and this country.

  9. Hi Jim F above, Others have provided links that may be helpful for your on property tax exemptions. I wanted to provide you all others some data on the levy tax we are going to vote upon. Local schools are responsible for buildings and local bonds and levies are ways to raise the needed funds. See comment on income taxes at the end.

    When we combine all the local taxes for schools here is our tax rates past, present, and future. The value of ones property is used to determine one’s “share” of the taxes. Levies and Bonds typically are allowed to collect the stated value. In this case $30m per year. For a bond that revenue stream would allow ESD to borrow the full amount earlier, paying the bonding interest and build and repair faster than the collection of the levy will allow. But lets look at the total tax rate we pay locally. This is the rate per 1000 that we paid are are estimated to pay for future years.

    2018 was $4.76
    2019 was $3.76
    2020 was $3.71
    2021 was $2.81
    The estimated rate for future years are:
    2022 will be $3.36 which will be lower than 2018,2019,2020 but higher than 2021. (Bonds were paid off and we did not authorize a new bond issue.
    2023 will be $3.32 still lower than the past and actually lower then the 2022 rate.

    Here is a comment about income taxes in SofW. Currently lower income folks pay about 16% of their income in taxes and higher income folks pay 4%. Studies show if we use the flat rate income tax which IS allowed the rate needed to replace all property and sale tax is about 10% for all levels. This would be better for the vast majority of citizens.

    1. Darrol I don’t qualify for the property tax program currently not old enough. You make a good argument but I am with Clinton on this one. I finally get a little break the last thing I am going to do is vote to take it away.

  10. Higher income folks and corporations use every loop hole they can to achieve lower taxation and brag about it to boot. (Trump – “It’s smart not to pay taxes.” ) The Trump tax cuts the Republicans are so proud of cost me all of my itemized deductions and got me paying 22% instead of 12% to 15%.

    In Darrol’s 10% flat tax, I assume he is talking about at the state level. Why would anyone in the 4% bracket decide to vote for a plan that would raise them to 10%. By the same token, why would I vote for any plan that would take me well over 22% in federal and state taxes combined. It’s high time for the rich folks to start taking on their fair share of paying for all of the noble causes.

    It’s way past time for middle class tax payers to engage in a large scale tax revolt and quit voting themselves tax increases for any reason, no matter how noble. The upper class folks certainly aren’t voting themselves any tax increases or volunteering to do more of their share. Taxes only go down when people choose to stop paying them, just like wars end when people refuse to keep fighting them.

    I know I’ve digressed but, the fact is, it is all interrelated. Since Ronald Reagan was in charge, tax cuts for the wealthy has been the answer to all our problems. As far as I can tell that is why we are at where we are today. I’m not going to vote for myself to pay any more taxes than I have to. It’s the Trump and Reagan way after all.

    1. Yep…the trickle down isn’t happening except maybe in very wealthy areas for beautification. Truth.

  11. Clint, what I was trying to show is a study shown in the Seattle Times said this. Today we pay sales, property, and other taxes which we all must pay. The study said that today a low income person pays about 16% of their income in all taxes and a high income person pays only 4% of their income in all taxes. The point is today low income people pay a greater percentage of their income to taxes. IF we eliminate all property and sales tax we could tax all people, low and high income folks alike 10% and raise the same as we do today with sales and property taxes. What that would amount to is low income people paying about 16% of their income to taxes today would have a lower tax bill. Higher income people paying only 4 percent would have a high bill than today.

    I was only trying to point out that a flat income tax would be better for low income folks and more of the tax burden would be shifted to higher income folks. Yes we would have to guard against it being just another tax or we would have to put limits on its growth just like I 747 did with limiting the growth of property tax without a vote of the people.

    The secret to changing how we collect revenue is to do it in a revenue neutral way and then limit its growth unless voted upon by the people or some form of super majority. What is being propose with the capital gains tax is not being proposed as a revenue neutral tax.

    1. Darrol, I totally understand what you are saying and you are absolutely correct on all counts. A flat income tax on all forms of income would be a total benefit to huge numbers of people, like you and I, who are currently being required to pay more than our share, so high income people can have low taxes. It’s “bass akward ” as we used to say in jest.

      This taxing system is no accident and the business of America, since Ronald Reagan, has been all about making millionaires into billionaires and to hell with schools, national parks, highways, bridges and you name it. The theory was that these things would be taken care of by everyone getting richer from the trickle down affect of lower taxes on corporations and the rich. So far hasn’t happened as far as I can see.

      In terms of the school levees, sure the need is there and it is great. I’m just tired of being the cow they always come to for all the milk they can get. Property taxes have been the easy mark to make up for not taxing people who should be taxed. I’m done voting to make myself pay more taxes. It the levees pass, I’ll pay the taxes, but I’m not going to facilitate it. Selfish, probably, but you fight back against the system however you can.

  12. No new taxes!!! Vote no!!
    Look at your new tax assessment for 2021 up 10-15 percent from 2020. My house I paid almost $200,000 for is now assessed at just under $1,000,000 and is still the same 60 year old house. My property taxes were $1,200 a year. Now just my school district portion will be over $3,000 a year. We seniors are all getting taxed out of Edmonds!
    Why put any money into school buildings that have been closed for a year now, and are still closed. Teachers won’t go back to full time in person school teaching 5 days a week 6 hrs a day. Consolidate all the schools to the “new norm”, remote/ part time learning. Cut administration and close the unused schools. When full time schools return “ie” all day in person learning then the district can show the taxpayer the case for more money.

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