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Washington Voices

East Valley School District measure long overdue

Proponents of East Valley School District’s construction bond and reorganization plan are ramping up efforts to encourage residents to vote yes.

“It’s time to do it,” said East Valley School District Board Chair Mitch Jensen. “We haven’t passed a bond since ’96 in this district. Our buildings are literally falling apart. They look good, which is an incredible statement to our custodial staff and our maintenance staff. But when you scrape through that tissue paper and spit and paint you find out that they are not all that wonderful.”

The district currently has no bond debt.

East Valley has put a bond before voters three times since May 2008 to fix failing buildings, most recently in February 2009. Each one of them failed, and Jensen said the board wanted to make some changes to the proposal before they put yet another bond on the ballot. The district held community meetings to find out what would make a voter support a bond.

What came out of those meetings was a plan to reorganize the district. Jensen admits communication wasn’t at its best when the meetings were launched and not every parent was able to participate, but he said now is the time to join the process.

Ruth Gifford, a parent of three students in the Continuous Curriculum School and a fourth at East Valley High School, is the chairwoman of Citizens for East Valley, the “yes” campaign for the bond.

She said they have been passing out fliers, putting up signs and handing out literature at every school district function.

Gifford cited four reasons she feels voters should approve the bond: the current state of the buildings, savings in maintenance and utilities costs if two buildings are closed, the many groups both outside and within East Valley that use the buildings and the reorganization will draw families to the area.

“We have the potential to just be the place that draws parents who are looking for a great school,” she said. “The school of choice.”

She agreed that the maintenance of the buildings is an important reason to vote yes. Pipes at Skyview Elementary School and Mountain View Middle School have burst this school year and roofs are leaking. She feels this doesn’t create a positive learning environment.

“All these maintenance issues take away from money that we can put in front of students,” she said.

Enrollment has declined. In 1999, East Valley had 4,647 full-time equivalent students. As of January, there are 4,398 FTE students, but only 3,754 students attend school in the buildings. Many students are enrolled in alternative or online programs.

“As we have fewer students in the buildings, that means there’s less money that comes into the district,” she said. “As we decrease the number of buildings we maintain … it’s a savings to the district.”

Whether the bond passes or fails, the district plans to reorganize its teaching practices. The middle schools will be closed and the neighborhood schools would teach children in prekindergarten through the eighth grade. Although the district isn’t relying on the money it would receive from voter approval, those in favor say it will make a difference.

“Passing the bond will make this transition easier on students,” Gifford said, stating they will be moved around less.

Central Valley and Mead each had a bond fail last month.

“I couldn’t believe it.” Jensen said. “I couldn’t believe it. And it’s a sign of many things obviously. …You’ve got people who are saying you can’t do it in this type of economy. When is it a good time to ask people for money?”

“The last times we brought this bond forward, we kind of got the feeling, ‘uh, oh, we brought the same thing to the people and they told us no,’ ” Gifford said. “We’re bringing them something different and better. Though Central Valley and Mead, some of the other districts that have failed, worried me a lot, I just believe that this time we have a better product.”