Your Questions Answered
Here are questions and answers we posted prior to the November 2016 election, in which voters overwhelmingly voted yes to pass the bond:
Why are voters being asked to vote on a bond measure?
Voter-approved bonds are the only way to fund school construction and renovation. The state does not provide dollars for building schools. State match is available only after voters pass a bond.
It has been ten years since a bond was passed, and we have a growing list of needs. For example:
- The capital fund that covers critical needs and emergency repairs will be depleted by the end of this year.
- Two 90-year-old schools do not meet modern fire and earthquake code and are overdue for replacement.
- We do not have enough elementary classrooms to accommodate growing enrollment or reduce class size.
How will the money from this bond be used?
Legally, the district cannot spend bond money on anything other than capital expenses. The projects that will be funded by the bond are explicitly outlined in the bond resolution passed by the school board. The funds cannot be diverted to any operational costs, such as salaries, programs or materials.
I heard that the district laid off a lot of facilities workers and let school buildings fall into disrepair. Why should we pay to replace buildings the district neglected?
During 2008-2010, when all school districts and all departments were making budget cuts, Highline did reduce maintenance and custodial positions. We have since built that staffing back up. For a district the size of Highline, the state recommends combined maintenance and custodial staffing of 149 full time positions. Highline currently has 144 full time positions.
We have reduced staffing in some categories, such as full time painters, because our newer buildings have fewer painted surfaces.
As property values increase, isn't the district collecting more and more money?
No, the district cannot collect more than the dollar amount approved by voters. If property values increase, the tax rate goes down, so the dollar amount paid by the homeowner does not increase.
Why are we running another bond before existing bonds are paid off?
Voter-approved bonds are the only way to pay for school construction and renovation. The state does not provide capital funds for schools, except as a partial match after voters approve a bond. Bonds are financed over about 20 years, like a home mortgage, so in order to stay on top of capital needs, school districts must run bonds every few year years. This means that bonds overlap. The tax is discontinued when a bond is paid off.
What projects are included in the bond package?
This bond package will provide funding to replace our oldest schools, make renovations and repairs that are cost-effective, build needed classroom space and make safety improvements district-wide. :
- Rebuild Highline High School, saving as much of the façade as financially and structurally feasible
- Build a new elementary school to serve Des Moines Elementary students, with room for growing enrollment
- Construct a new middle school to serve the growing student population now in our elementary schools and provide broader educational opportunities for sixth graders
- Begin design of Tyee and Evergreen High Schools and Pacific Middle School, saving $23 million and jumpstarting the construction process when a future bond is passed.
- Install electronic door looks on every classroom and security cameras at schools that don’t have them
- Replenish the depleted fund for critical needs and emergency repairs
How was the bond developed? Who decided what is included?
The bond package was developed by the Capital Facilities Advisory Committee (CFAC), a citizens’ committee representing every part the district. The committee met for a year to study the district's facilities needs, review data, such as enrollment projections and building conditions, and analyze various solutions.
CFAC developed a long-term facilities plan, which includes the proposed bond as the first phase of a three-phase plan to meet students’ needs over the next 20 years.
How much will the bond cost?
The measure would raise $299 million for capital improvements, repairs and construction. The estimated cost to the homeowner starting in 2018 is 79 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.
If passed, the district will receive nearly $60 million in state matching funds and will be eligible for additional funding to lower class sizes once additional classrooms are built.
Who will be able to vote on the bond?
If you are a registered voter in the boundaries of Highline Public Schools, you will have the opportunity to vote on this measure. It is titled Proposition 1, and it will appear on the back side of your November 8 ballot. Ballots will mailed to all voters and are expected to arrive in mailboxes on October 19.
Passage requires 60% voter approval. Your ballot must be returned by November 8 for your vote to count.
Why are our elementary schools crowded?
Our community is rapidly growing, with another 2,100 students expected over the next 8 to 10 years. Our elementary schools are full today. The state now funds full-day kindergarten and lower class sizes at grades K-3, but we need to add nearly 50 additional classrooms to accommodate these changes just for the students we have now, not counting the additional students who are coming in the next several years.
What is Highline’s track record for bond spending?
Highline Public Schools has a track record of fiscal responsibility. Every project funded by voter-approved bonds in 2002 and 2006 was completed on budget. We qualified for millions of dollars in state, Port, and federal matching funds. Through good financial management and wise use of matching dollars, we were able to build three additional schools beyond the ones funded by the 2002 and 2006 bonds. By refinanciing past bonds, we have saved taxpayers nearly $12.5 million.
Why replace Highline High School and Des Moines Elementary rather than renovate them?
Highline High School and Des Moines Elementary are both nearly 100 years old. Repairing and maintaining them is increasingly costly, draining money from our classrooms.
Renovating buildings of this vintage is often far more expensive than new construction. Both buildings are well beyond their intended lifespan and have been renovated and repaired multiple times. They now have many failing systems (heating, ventilation, plumbing, electrical), are not up to current fire or earthquake codes, and need structural work. The electrical infrastructure cannot support the technology we expect in today’s schools. It may be impossible to make needed improvements at any price, given the constraints of the old construction.
What will be done to preserve the historic façade at Highline High School?
We recognize that this school building holds a special significance in the community, and that is why we have selected Bassetti Architects, which worked on several historic schools, including Roosevelt High School, Franklin High School, and Stadium High School. We will save as much of the façade as financially and structurally feasible and will retain the historic look of the building.
Why build a new elementary school in Des Moines?
Des Moines Elementary is at the top of our list for replacement due to its condition and age, at 90 years old. The Capital Facilities Advisory Committee determined building a new school on district-owned land at Zenith is the most cost-effective and fiscally responsible plan.
The Des Moines Elementary site is not large enough for the facility we need to handle growing enrollment. The current building has a capacity of about 450. The Zenith site has space to build a modern school for 700 students. The outdated infrastructure in the current Des Moines facility does not have the electrical capacity for the technology available to students in our other elementary schools.
Will this bond measure impact boundaries? If boundaries are adjusted, what will be the process?
We do not anticipate changing high school boundaries. Some shift in elementary boundary may be necessary in south Des Moines when the Zenith school opens in 2019 to relieve crowding at neighboring schools.
Middle school boundaries will be redrawn when the new middle school is completed in 2019. Highline Public Schools will involve the community in the boundary change process.
Why build a new middle school?
The Capital Facilities Advisory Committee determined that the most cost-effective and long-term solution to overcrowding is to build capacity at both elementary and middle school levels. While the current overcrowding is most severe at elementary schools, as our students get older, we will need additional space at our middle schools.
Why include design dollars for Evergreen, Tyee, and Pacific in this bond?
Though funding to rebuild these three schools will require a future bond, taxpayers will save money by getting the design work done early. This will speed up the construction schedule, reducing overall costs. Construction costs in the Seattle area are increasing by 4 to 6 percent each year, so the sooner we complete projects the less expensive they are.
Why aren't Evergreen or Tyee being replaced on this bond?
Evergreen Campus and Tyee Campus have been identified as priorities for the second phase of CFAC's long-term facility improvement plan. The building evaluations conducted by architects, engineers, and OSPI in 2008 and 2013 established a ranking of all school sites according to most urgent needs. Among our high schools, Highline is ranked highest, with a “poor” rating. Evergreen is ranked next, in the “fairly poor” category. Tyee is further down the list, with a “fair” rating. While all three campuses have critical needs, Highline is in far more critical condition based on this objective assessment of needs.
Can we fix the overcrowding problem by purchasing more portable classrooms?
Portables ease overcrowding in the short term, but they are not a good long-term solution. They are expensive but are not built to last. We have portables at nearly all elementary schools already. At most schools we cannot put more portables on the property due to zoning regulations and because the common areas (hallways, cafeteria, playground, etc.) cannot accommodate more students.
What improvements will be made to the other schools in the district?
Every school in the district will get safety upgrades if the bond passes:
- Electronic locks on every classroom door
- Upgraded video surveillance system in every school
In addition, the bond includes $19 million for emergency repairs and critical needs. Because the district has not passed a bond for ten years, the fund that pays for these critical capital needs will be empty by next year. After that, dollars for emergency repairs will have to come out of the general fund, which pays for all the costs of operating schools, including teachers’ salaries, supplies, regular maintenance, and utilities.
What will happen if the bond fails?
If the bond should fail, we will have immediate impacts and longer term impacts.
- Starting in about a year, money that would otherwise be spent on educating students will have to be used pay for emergency repairs. The last time voters passed a bond replenishing the capital fund was ten years ago. That fund, which pays for emergency repairs and critical needs, will be empty by next year. After that, dollars for emergency repairs will have to come out of the general fund, which pays for all the costs of operating schools, including teachers’ salaries, supplies, regular maintenance, and utilities.
- Schools will get more crowded as enrollment grows over the next ten years. We have installed portables at nearly all elementary sites allowed under current zoning regulations. At most elementary schools, core facilities (cafeteria, hallways, playground, etc.) cannot handle additional students even if additional portables could be installed.
- Maintenance costs will grow as older buildings become increasingly expensive to maintain and repair.
- Construction costs are escalating at an estimated 4 to 6 percent per year, increasing the overall costs of future bonds.
- The 20-year facilities plan developed by the Capital Facilities Advisory Committee will be delayed, and our ability to meet the current and future needs of students will be postponed to sometime in the future.
Why not use the old Beverly Park building rather than build a new elementary school?
The old Beverly Park building was on a septic system that failed several years ago. We are in the process of hooking up to city sewer (a $750,000 investment) so that the building can be used again.
We plan to remove the old portables. They do not meet current safety code and are not appropriately noise insulated. The capacity of the building itself (hallways, restrooms, cafeteria) is built for about 300 students, so the portables add more students than the school is built to handle.
We plan to use the building for a smaller program in the future, after the sewer work is completed and necessary upgrades are done.
Why add science labs to Evergreen and Tyee if they will be rebuilt in the next phase of the 20-year facilities plan?
Our students need science labs in order to meet new state graduation requirements in science. The bond includes $19 million for critical needs and emergency repairs. This critical need would use less than one-half of one percent of the critical needs fund. The plan is to convert existing classrooms to science labs.
Though the long-range facilities plan developed by the Capital Facilities Advisory Committee calls for rebuilding Evergreen and Tyee in the future, the earliest that could happen is at least six years in the future. Our students have to meet the new science requirements in four years. Most of the cost is in lab equipment and furniture that could be used after Evergreen and Tyee are rebuilt sometime.
Why not build more elementary schools in order to reduce K-3 class size?
CFAC considered three options for adding classroom space at the elementary level:
1. Build three elementary schools - $166 million
2. Build two new elementary schools and expand 8 or 9 existing elementary schools - $156 million
3. Transfer 6th grade to middle school, construct new middle school for 950 students, replace Des Moines Elementary with an increased capacity of 200 additional students, and expand 8 or 9 existing elementary schools - $ 93.3 million (Elementary expansion would be partially funded through a special state grant. This grant can only be used to add classrooms in order to reduce class size.)
CFAC determined that Option 3 was the most cost-effective alternative.
If buildings are properly maintained, why do they need to be replaced?
We take pride in the care and maintenance of our schools, and we do our very best to make them cosmetically attractive, functional, and to extend their lives as long as possible. The most serious problems are not cosmetic and are often not readily visible. These issues include failing heating systems, leaking roofs and windows, old plumbing, and outdated electrical systems that can’t support today’s technology. Older buildings are not constructed to current codes for fire safety, earthquake standards, and disability access.
For more detail about the condition of all of our facilities, see this inventory of building conditions, listed by school.
Why can’t you re-open unused facilities, such as Glacier High School?
The level of repairs, renovations and upgrades that would be required to make these buildings suitable are cost prohibitive and/or not possible given the constraints of the existing construction. Even with major renovation, re-opening closed schools would not provide a long-term solution. At best, we could extend the life of these older buildings 10 to 20 years, while new construction would be expected to last more than 50 years into the future. Bottom line, the price tag would be too high and the quality of the classrooms too low to make this a good investment.