For the Spokane Public Schools board of directors, the “ah-ha!” moment came last spring.
During a workshop on May 9, associate superintendent Mark Anderson presented a series of scenarios that would allow the district to take advantage of the landmark McCleary decision that places the tax burden for basic education back on the state of Washington.
“A window of opportunity,” Anderson called it, as he invited the board to take a peek. They liked what they saw: a chance to build six new middle schools and ease overcrowding for young students and make other substantive improvements – all while handing taxpayers a smaller bill.
Less than three months later, the board unanimously approved a $495.3 million bond for the Nov. 6 ballot.
“Our taxpayers have been paying more than their fair share for education for years,” Superintendent Shelley Redinger said. “Now it’s our taxpayers who are getting a break.”
If approved by at least 60 percent of voters, the portion of taxes property owners pay for school construction bonds would increase by about 70 cents per $1,000 of property value in 2020 compared to 2017. But it’s happening around the same time that state leaders have revamped the tax system for schools, which will lower other school taxes in the Spokane tax district. In 2017, homeowners in the Spokane district paid $7.91 per $1,000 in assessed value for schools. If the bond passes, that would still fall to $6.95 per $1,000.
The state will add an additional $57.9 million to the projects if the bond passes for a total cost of $553.2 million.
At the same time, the city of Spokane is offering a $77 million library bond that could include projects tied to approval of the school bond. It would add three new libraries and modernize four others.
The bond also has funds for a new football stadium, either a rebuilt version at the site of Joe Albi Stadium, where the district’s high school football teams play home games, or a new facility north of downtown.
The bond would have cost significantly more without a partnership formed with the city of Spokane. City leaders have agreed to provide unused city land to the district for the new middle schools in exchange for the ability to build new libraries on school property.
“People we’ve spoken with, they generally understand government, they love the partnership,” Spokane Mayor David Condon said last week. “The No. 1 reason people live where they do is the access to their schools.
“This is how you build a school district of choice.”
By extension, Condon said, the bonds will build neighborhoods of choice – including East Central, where a remodeled Libby Center and a new library could be transformative.
The biggest piece of the bond – about $360 million – will be the six middle schools. 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 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.”
Three existing middle schools dating from the 1950s – Glover, Shaw and Sacajawea – would be replaced near existing sites.
The move would ease K-3 overcrowding by moving sixth-graders into the middle schools beginning in 2021 and offering those same sixth-graders a more comprehensive educational experience.
“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 adolescence.”
Also in the bond is an $18 million project for a new cafeteria commons at Lewis and Clark High School, additional space for options programs at the Libby Center and the On Track Academy, including Spanish immersion, and smaller improvements for all schools.
“A chicken in every pot,” Anderson calls it.
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