The 52 percent yes votes fell shy of the 60 percent support needed to approve the $224.9 million bond
BATTLE GROUND — “Shocked.” “Bitter.” “Angry.”
Just some of the words people at Mill Creek Pub in Battle Ground used to express how they felt after their latest attempt to pass a $224.9 million building bond was rejected by voters. At about 12 minutes after eight, Superintendent Mark Ross informed the stunned group of citizen volunteers and school staff that the yes votes were barely over 52 percent. They needed 60 percent in order to get the bond approved.
“We still have schools in the south end that are very, very crowded,” Ross said, “and the board will just have to make a decision about what the short- and long-term solutions are.”
Sue Cranke, co-chair for Battle Ground Citizens for Better Schools, was less restrained in her response.
“I’m shocked. I’m really shocked that we decreased in what our percentage was the last time,” she says. “Why is it that education is more important in every district around us, and in Battle Ground we can’t pass a bond to build new schools? I don’t understand.”
The Clark County Elections Office estimates 1,800 ballots still remain to be counted, since they could be mailed until 5 p.m. on Tuesday. Still, a vast majority of those outstanding ballots would need to be yes votes in order to change the outcome, which is highly unlikely.
Ross and Cranke both put much of the blame on the property tax increases felt by many around the state as a result of the way the legislature worked to meet their Supreme Court mandated funding of education.
“We tried to convey that they’re going to go down next year, that this was an anomaly,” says Cranke. “It hurt us in February because we knew that the increase was coming, and when people got their tax statement they freaked out and they voted their wallet.”
“Thank you state for the way they did it (funding education),” she added. “That hurt us.”
The bond failed in February by just 220 votes, falling just over one percent shy of the amount needed to pass. While precinct-by-precinct numbers will come later, it’s obvious the opposition was more motivated this time around.
“We felt, and the citizens group felt that we had some good momentum with the last one only being a couple hundred votes away,” says Ross.
Critics questioned the cost estimates the district had put forth, as well as student growth projections for the next decade. While many didn’t argue that schools like Glenwood/Laurin and Pleasant Valley are overcrowded and outdated, there was disagreement about the need for a new K-8 school on 158th Avenue and other projects included in the bond proposal. They also questioned the district’s analysis of the tax burden, arguing costs could easily go up again in the future if the state changed its cap on local levies, and once the one-time relief passed this year by the legislature goes away.
“All these nay-sayers? Let them come up with a solution,” says Cranke. “They’re really good about saying ‘no’, but do they come up with solutions?”
For now the district is faced with a grim reality.
“The needs are the needs, and the enrollment report is showing that the growth is still going to be in the south end,” says Ross. “Our oldest schools are still our most crowded schools. We’ll probably go to the citizens’ group, go back to the board, and decided if and when we run it again what it’ll look like.”
They won’t be able to do that until next year at the earliest, and it’s expected that construction costs will continue to accelerate around the region. That means even a bond with fewer projects could come close to the same price tag or higher.
“I feel bad for the school board because they’re going to have to make some really tough decisions,” says Cranke. “And, is the construction going to stop? No. So there’s going to be more and more houses built, and we’re going to have more and more kids in the schools that are already over-crowded.”
In the short term, the solution will be the same it’s been for years: “We have already scheduled portables, six more classrooms that we’re putting at Glenwood,” says Ross, “But really the concern right now is the core facilities, the gyms, the libraries, cafeterias. We’re just running out of space to fit the kids.”
Longer term, the board will begin looking more seriously at possible boundary changes to shift some students from the southern end of the district further north.
“We’ve already had several open work sessions with the board and looked at different options, and brain-stormed different boundary proposals,” says Ross, “So we’ll have to go back to another work session and take a look at those, and obviously get input from the community as well.
“Our schools are a ways away from each other, so the nearest school that potentially has some space to Glenwood/Laurin is Maple Grove and that’s a fair distance,” he adds, “so that requires some busing, and nobody wants to do that.”
And longer routes could mean higher costs to transport kids to and from class.
As for whether the board should have waited until next August to bring the bond back to voters, Cranke called it a “stupid” idea.
“The way you do this is you’re talking to all the parents whose kids are in school right now,” she says. “In August you’re on Summer vacation. They’re not thinking about school bonds.”
They may be this Summer, as the debate will continue among the people in Battle Ground about whether the struggle schools have when it comes to financial backing here is a good or a bad thing. For now, it’s just a thing – A thing the School Board and Superintendent Mark Ross will begin wrestling with in earnest this week.
As for Sue Cranke, she won’t be leading the charge for the next school building bond, whenever it comes. She says she’s been “punched in the stomach” once too many times over the past couple of years.