Bond measure would replace several aging schools, build new facilities
BATTLE GROUND — Battle Ground Public Schools is placing a proposed school bond on a special election ballot on Tue., Feb. 13.
The bond, which would cost taxpayers $224.9 million, would be used in conjunction with an expected $61.6 million state matching grant to replace and refurbish school buildings, as well as bring improvements in technology and campus safety, according to information provided by the school district.
Over an 18-month process, the district created a facilities improvement team (FIT) that conducted a needs assessment study and survey that examined properties in the district and identified the areas of greatest need that the district should address, said Superintendent Mark Ross.
The proposed bond is phase one of a three-phase, long-range facility plan that comprises an 18-year period of three separate phases.
According to Ross, the bond is designed to address “our greatest needs” as a school district. Ross said that the last bond to pass was in 2005, and was used for the most part to update the northern and central parts of the district.
That bond built the newest schools in the district, including Daybreak primary and middle schools, Tukes Valley primary and middle schools, Chief Umtuch Middle School and Amboy Middle School.
Ross said that the proposed bond would have an impact more on the southern end of the district, which has not been affected heavily by bonds in the past.
Under the bond proposal, Glenwood Heights Primary School, built in 1956, and Laurin Middle School, built in 1965, would both be replaced by new buildings. Pleasant Valley primary and middle schools, built in 1975, would also be completely replaced.
Several buildings rated structurally poor at Prairie High School would be replaced if the bond passes, as would a building and the gym at Amboy Middle School. Battle Ground and Prairie high schools, Maple Grove and Yacolt, as well as the district office, would all receive new flooring with funds from the bond.
If passed, the bond would provide funding to build an entirely new elementary and middle school on district-owned property off of 152nd Avenue, as well as providing for a permanent alternative learning experience facility on land owned by the district. CAM Academy, one alternative school in the district, is currently housed in a leased building.
The bond also includes allocations to improve security by updating door locks and security cameras, as well as modernizing schools with newer technology and science, technology engineering and math facilities.
Finally, some student recreation areas of several schools would be updated, including new covered play areas.
“So, pretty much, we’re going to touch just about every building in our district,” Ross said.
Financial impact on taxpayers
Tax payers in the district are still paying off a 2005 bond, which expires in 2023, said Rita Sanders, communications manager for the school district. The total rate of all state and local bonds and levies in 2017 was $6.02 per $1,000 of home value, Ross said.
Due to a change in state school tax policies, 2018 will see an increase in taxes to $7.01 in total per $1,000 of home value. Ross said that when the new bond, if passed, takes effect in 2019, the changes at a state level will result in an overall projected decrease in total taxes to $6 per $1,000 for assessed home value.
Figures provided by the district estimate that the new bond alone, when added to the remaining bond from 2005, would cost taxpayers $1.60 per $1,000 in home value.
Ross said that the bond is necessary to address aging schools and growth within the district. Citing Glenwood Heights, Ross said that the school was built in 1956, and was designed to house approximately 480 students. With the growth in the district, portables have been added to Glenwood Heights, which now houses 800 students, as well as to other schools in the district.
Some of the older buildings such as Glenwood and Laurin also are built to a “California model” design which eliminates many internal hallways and provides many classrooms with individual exterior entrances, Ross said. According to Ross, each classroom having its own exterior entrance creates a safety hazard.
Ross explained that some people have asked why older schools cannot be remodeled instead of completely replaced. “It’s not economically feasible to renovate a building for safety needs like that,” Ross said.
Sanders said that growth in district population as well as increased state classroom size restrictions contribute to a need to have more classrooms, which in turn require new buildings. She noted that to accommodate this, 42 percent of students at Glenwood Heights and Laurin are housed in portables.
According to Sanders, adding portables can increase students housed, but does not increase core facilities such as parking, libraries and offices.
If the bond were to fail, Ross said that several options are available. The district could keep adding portables. It could also adjust school boundary lines to allow schools like Maple Grove, which has some capacity for growth, to take some of the students from other, more crowded schools.
“I’m encouraged, and we’re very optimistic,” Ross said regarding the bond’s chances of success.
Opposition to the bond measure
Not everyone within the school district is in favor of the bond proposal, however.
Battle Ground resident Dick Rylander, who operates a blog about local education and a Facebook page in opposition to the bond, said that the bond as it stands is not a good measure to approve.
“The issue I have is it mixes some things that are needed,” Rylander said, “with things that are not needed.”
Rylander said that due to their age and condition, expanding the Glenwood Heights and Laurin schools is necessary. He said that the Pleasant Valley campus is newer, and thus not as necessary to replace as the two older campuses.
However, Rylander said that he is not in favor of a completely new school. “There is no data that supports the need for a new campus for the foreseeable future.’’
Rylander said that there is an ongoing discussion about population growth within the district. Rylander examined county and city records for the district boundaries over the past three years that showed the number of building permits within the limits of Battle Ground Public Schools.
Citing studies that state a historical average of approximately .45 students per household when single and multi-family dwellings are combined, and with the consideration of approximately 2,068 new building permits in the district since 2015, Rylander said that the district should have approximately 838 new students over that period. In reality, he said that approximately 235 students were added to the district in that time frame.
Thus, Rylander said that the bond is based on projections of growth from the school district that do not reflect historical reality.
He also explained that the district can only legally build a school for the amount of students it has at the current time. Rylander said that when he asked the district if there are capacity limits for schools, he was told there was not.
In a letter dated Jan. 7 to the Battle Ground School Board, Rylander said that because a school can only be built for the current number of students in its boundaries, growth must be accommodated by adding more facilities in the future. He said that the limiting factors for population would thus be land and support services. As such, Rylander argues that there can be no true fixed capacity number for a school, and therefore the district’s claims of schools housing more students than they were designed for are “disingenuous and misleading.”
Rylander also explained that some of the bond’s proposed projects should be addressed by the district’s maintenance and operations levy, which was passed last spring. In the Battle Ground school district, Rylander said that 90 percent of that levy goes to pay teachers, and only 10 percent supports maintenance and operations. To Rylander, the public would be better served if the district used maintenance and operations funds to complete some of the projects proposed by the bond.
According to Rylander, the school district could alleviate some of its growth pressures by altering boundaries so that schools in the northern part of the district — such as Maple Grove, Tukes Valley and Daybreak, which are under designed capacity — could house some of the students from the south of the district.
“In the aggregate for me,” Rylander said, “I want people to say ‘no’ because I want the school board to go back and sharpen their pencil and say ‘here are the things we really need to do and we need to separate maintenance and operations items from capital bond 21-year money.’”
For the bond to pass, a 60 percent supermajority must be achieved. The last time a bond was attempted in the school district was in the fall of 2016, and that bond was not approved by voters.
More information about the Battle Ground Public Schools bond measure is available on the district’s website at http://www.battlegroundps.org/bond.
Rylander’s Facebook page is No on Battle Ground School Capital Bond Feb 13 2018, and more information can be found at http://www.swweducation.org/?page_id=4458.