In the end, Wednesday night was about Spokane schools and how to make them better.
During an evening dominated by discussion of a proposed downtown stadium, the Spokane Public Schools board kept its eyes on the books, not the ball.
Capping years of talks with the city, the board approved a wide-ranging, $495 million bond measure that would add three middle schools, replace three others and provide substantive improvements throughout the district.
The bond will be on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
“It’s the chicken in every pot – everybody gets something,” said associate superintendent Mark Anderson, the district’s representative on the proposal.
The bond would take advantage of a rare window opened by last year’s McCleary court decision, which mandated increased state support for public education.
Beginning next year, residents in the Spokane Public Schools will see a tax drop of $2.20 per $1,000 of assessed property value as the state picks up more of the tab. The bond measure would cost $1.05 per $1,000, leaving property owners paying $1.15 less per $1,000.
The bond includes a state match of $57.9 million for a total cost of $553.2 million.
“We did think it was good time to leverage some dollars,” superintendent Shelley Redinger said.
Mayor David Condon set the tone during an unprecedented joint meeting with the City Council at the Spokane Convention Center, which drew at least 200 attendees.
“Schools are the No. 1 reason why people choose to live in Spokane,” Condon said. “This is how you build a school district of choice.”
The building process for the bond began several years ago, as the city and school district began talks on how to better use parcels of unused or little-used city land.
The bond would put two of those new middle schools on city land, one near Mullan Road Elementary School and another in northeast Spokane on North Foothills Drive.
A third middle school will be located on land currently occupied by Albi Stadium – whether or not the stadium will be demolished or downsized.
“It’s about outcomes, about bringing these pieces together,” Condon said. “This is a magnificent use of government-owned assets.”
If approved, the district will embark on a design phase that’s expected to last about a year. Construction would begin early in 2020.
The centerpiece of the bond will be the three new middle schools, which would ease overcrowding and pave the way toward moving sixth-graders into middle schools beginning in 2021.
“We’re thrilled for a new school,” Glover Middle School principal Mark Lund said. “We are so ready to handle students and help them with them with adolescence.”
Those grade-configuration changes are in response to statewide K-3 class-size reduction, as well as mandatory all-day kindergarten.
“We’re packed,” Anderson said at a recent school board meeting. “We’ve got to get some breathing room for moving sixth-graders for educational reasons as well as space-consideration reasons.”
Additionally, the bond calls for replacement of Sacajawea, Glover and Shaw middle schools.
The middle school projects drew praise from most attendees. However, several objected to the possible elimination of the dog park located adjacent to Mullan Road Elementary.
The bond also includes a new commons area at Lewis and Clark High School, renovation of the Libby Center for option programs, safety and security upgrades for all schools and other smaller projects.
Those smaller projects also drew support Wednesday night.
Calling her school “dissected and bisected” by downtown arterials, LC principal Marybeth Smith said that “Tiger Nation really needs a commons area.”