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Friday, February 21, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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East Valley looks to voters for new school parking lots, funds for security changes

Title 1 paraprofessional Tracy Means talks with a student before school starts at Trent Elementary on Jan. 6, 2020. There will be two levies on East Valley resident's ballots in February. Part of the levie money will go toward a new parking lot for Trent Elementary. Kathy Plonka/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Title 1 paraprofessional Tracy Means talks with a student before school starts at Trent Elementary on Jan. 6, 2020. There will be two levies on East Valley resident's ballots in February. Part of the levie money will go toward a new parking lot for Trent Elementary. Kathy Plonka/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

East Valley School District is seeking millions for safety and building improvements and funding to continue programs as two of the district’s levies expire.

The district is seeking $2.50 cents for $1,000 of assessed property value to continue existing programs and staffing levels, as well as add an additional school resource deputy.

It is also seeking 90 cents for every $1,000 of assessed property value to redo four school parking lots and fix plumbing and infrastructure issues in an elementary school. Both levies will be on the ballot for the Feb. 11 special election.

East Valley School District Superintendent Kelly Shea said the new parking lots were a continuation of security improvements paid for by the 2018 levy, which will expire at the end of the year. That levy paid for secure entrances at every school, cameras, and new locks on the doors of classrooms that can be locked without a key from the inside.

Before voters passed that capital improvement levy in 2018, the school was audited by its insurance carrier discovered that supposedly locked exterior entrances to the building could still be pulled open. There were also camera and other communication issues.

Shea said the district had looked at adding metal detectors in the past, but after consulting a committee of parents and studying the cost, it decided a secure and streamlined entrance for each school was the most effective way to secure its buildings. The new parking lots will make that type of entrance feasible during the chaotic periods when school buses and parents are dropping off children.

“This isn’t about parking lots for convenience, this is about making the safety improvements they wanted to work,” he said.

The new parking lots will separate private vehicle and bus traffic when children are being dropped off, and change the layout so the back entrance will be where the public accesses the schools. Most parking lots will have some sort of loops for parents to keep traffic from backing up into the street.

He said having buses unload or parents drop off, right next to or on busy streets like North Pines Road, where Trent elementary is, has also lead to other unsafe situations. One child has been hit by a car in the past and another student ran into the street.

The district has already redone the Trentwood Elementary School parking lot and would repave four more, including Otis Orchards, East Farms, Trent, and the Continuous Curriculum School.

Shea said far more parents are driving their children to school instead of letting them take the bus, or walk, than when the schools were built between the 1950s and 1970s.

Traffic before school starts can sometimes get so bad that parents resort to stopping in the street and letting their kids out because there is no space in school driveways or parking lots, he said. Several schools are located on busy roads and near train intersections, exacerbating traffic situations.

A portion of the capital levy would also be spent on a plumbing project. East Farms Elementary School and the Continuous Curriculum School both have had several floods due to plumbing issues beneath their buildings. Over the past five years, there have been 7 plumbing related floods in the two schools including in the library, and in a classroom.

Shea said the district is still researching how to repair the plumbing in the two older schools. An estimate to replacing the old copper pipes that run underneath the buildings could cost about $2 million per school.

Neale Rasmussen, East Valley’s executive director of business services and technology, said the school will likely be able to afford one of those plumbing projects with the capital levy.

A portion of the program renewal levy will also be spent on public safety. East Valley School District already has one school resource deputy, but would pay for another and a district employee that would be in charge of security as well. Those two hires are estimated to cost around $220,000.

Rasmussen said the program levy pays for a significant number of existing employees as well, including counselors, nurses, custodians and teachers. It also pays for special education programs and extracurricular activities.

“The levy affects nearly every program in the district,” he said. “It covers the difference between what it actually costs to provide these services and what the state funds.”

Altogether, the levy funds about 60 employees.

The program replacement levy would last for four years, collecting an estimated $9.9 million in 2021, $10.9 million in 2022, $12 million in 2023 and $13.4 million in 2024.

If voters approve the capital levy, it will last for two years, and is estimated to collect $3.4 million in 2021 and $3.6 million in 2022. Shea said because of a change in state law, school districts now commit to a rate instead of a total amount, meaning that they will collect 90 cents for every $1,000 of assessed property value regardless if property increases.

Both levies will appear on the Feb. 11 ballot that will be mailed to voters in two weeks.

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