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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Public Schools reviews bond survey results, discusses when a bond may return to ballots

Greg Forsyth Director of Capital Projects for Spokane Public Schools, leads a tour leads a tour at Denny Yasuhara Middle School on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022, in Spokane, Wash.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

What weighed heaviest on the minds of voters who turned down Spokane Public Schools’ bond proposal in February? Property values and inflation.

A survey of almost 5,000 responses reviewed by the school district revealed that district officials were right in their post-mortem of the election: a worsening economy affected voters and their appetite for a $200 million tax ask to upgrade and build new schools.

With 55.9% voting in favor, the bond measure didn’t meet the 60% threshold needed to pass. Officials and board members reviewed the survey results and discussed when a proposal may return to ballots at a special meeting before their regular board meeting March 20.

It was mostly district families who took the February survey: 52% were family members of a district student, 24% were employees and 23% were other community members.

The survey asked respondents to rate items on a five-point Likert scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree on topics that influenced their “no” vote. Topics included increased property values, inflation, economic uncertainty, the downtown ONE Spokane Stadium being built with funds from the last bond; and test scores that indicate a majority of district students don’t meet standards set by the state.

Of these factors, inflation and increasing property values garnered an average response of agree or strongly agree.

The results guided further discussion on a potential future tax proposal that could appear on ballots in February, April, August or November of any year.

Board members had some interest in sending the proposal to August ballots.

Board president Nikki Otero Lockwood suggested that in August, the memory of the bond’s failure and disappointment from supporters would be fresh in voters’ minds.

“It’s soon enough that maybe those who had the energy around support would maybe be helpful in that,” Lockwood said.

To certify results, bond proposals require a voter turnout of at least 40% of the votes cast in the general election prior. Higher voter turnout expected for the November presidential election means any election after “will be tough” to certify the results, board member Melissa Bedford said.

The board has until May 3 to file a proposal for August ballots, including the total amount sought and a list of projects.

Board members also considered adding the proposal to an already crowded November ballot, though officials reasoned that their bond ask could be buried among other high-profile measures.

“We need to consider the number of items on an election ballot; sometimes folks may not vote on certain items if there’s lots of choices to pick and choose or if they haven’t studied it enough,” senior advisor Mark Anderson said. “That’s why many school districts have tended to do February, because it’s a special election. Usually, it’s just schools on that election day.”

Board member Mike Wiser said November was “almost out of the question,” though Bedford wasn’t so quick to write it off, wanting more information.

Board member Hilary Kozel reasoned anything before April 2025 may be too hasty, given survey results indicating inflation was a large factor to the “no” vote.

“Unless there’s a drastic turnaround in the economic conditions, I just feel like November is sort of like, ‘We’re just going to try one more time,’ ” Kozel said. “I just worry that voters would say, ‘I don’t think you heard me.’ ”

Another idea is the district seeking a bond years down the line, an initially unappealing prospect for board members who see dire facility needs in their district.

“It’s hard for me to swallow the idea of waiting until 2027, because we need stuff now,” Bedford said.

“I don’t wanna wait for three years,” board member Jenny Slagle said.