Ben Small had addressed over 80 community groups in the last several months, speaking about the tenants of a capital facilities bond to provide funding for improvements across the Central Valley School District.
On Tuesday night, the CVSD superintendent spoke to another crowd – this time, Small’s platform was less about renovation than rumination.
As the ballot count filtered in around 8 p.m., the bond had only earned around 46 percent of the required 60 percent majority. While there are still votes to be counted – the election won’t be officially certified until Feb. 23 – Small acknowledged Tuesday that the margin was substantial enough to offer a concession speech.
“It’s disappointing, but we have to move forward,” Small said. “I still believe this community is supportive of education. It’s a fact that these facilities and these structural issues are not going to change.”
The $69.6 million bond – which would have included another $32.8 in state funds – was introduced last summer as the first phase of a 25-year capital facilities plan that emerged from the research and recommendations of an 18-member committee. The group’s report took close to 15 months to compile and included a review of the existing conditions of the district’s 24 existing buildings.
The initiative addressed funding for a new school in the eastern portion of the district and modernizing efforts at Greenacres, Opportunity, Ponderosa and Chester elementary schools as well as Evergreen Middle School. Proponents of the tax pointed to a host of problems, from aging HVAC systems to outdated technology to other infrastructure concerns. The renovation of a kitchen at Horizon Middle School and improved safety, security and communication systems across the district were also on the agenda.
The bond would have meant an additional 65 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value beginning in 2012, or an annual increase of around $98 for a home valued at $150,000. Overall, the bond rate would have adjusted to $2.30 per $1,000, a level remaining constant throughout the 25-year capital facilities plan. As part of the plan, additional bond votes were scheduled for 2015, 2022, 2029 and 2033.
Damon Smith, chairman of the Central Valley Citizens for Education committee, said Tuesday it was still early to speculate on what direction future capital campaigns would take.
“All those things are still prioritized in that order,” he said. “We need to start someplace.”
Smith said doorbelling efforts reached around 14,000 homes and included 95 volunteer teams.
“It was very much a community-based effort in every aspect,” Smith said. “I want to thank a great group of volunteers for all their dedicated work.”
While traditionally passing levy votes for ongoing maintenance costs, the district has experienced its share of struggles at the ballot since a capital facilities initiative was approved in 1998 to the tune of $78 million. Those funds included $23 million through a state matching grant and went toward the construction of two new high schools and the renovation of several other campuses.
In March 2003, a request for $25 million failed by five percentage points. Three years later, in March 2006, a $55.2 million bond fared better, earning 57 percent of the vote, but still short of the supermajority. A $75.7 million capital facilities initiative in November of the same year dropped back to 54 percent.
When CVSD board of directors approved the latest bond last June, Small said the new approach emphasized “identifying and solving facilities issues that impact student learning.”
CVSD officials frequently pointed to the success of the Spokane Public School District’s long-range capital facilities plan while constructing their own. In running a $165 million bond in March 2003, District 81 earned over 67 percent of the vote. The funds paid for major upgrades at Shadle Park and Rogers high schools as well as the replacement of three elementary schools and infrastructure improvements at eight other campuses.
The second installment in Spokane’s 25-year construction program appeared on the March 2009 ballot, coasting to a 63 percent win. That $332 million bond will cover the renovation of Ferris High School and four other schools.
Mark Anderson, District 81 associate superintendent for school support services, said that while the tax rate increased 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value after the first vote in 2003, the amount has leveled out to no more than $1.96 per $1,000 since.
“We have predictable costs and our voters know we are good stewards of this money,” Anderson said. “We keep folks aware of what’s going on and also make sure to thank the voters who support the district.”
Nearly 350 attended a “Vote Yes for Central Valley Schools” campaign launch on Jan. 6 at the CenterPlace Regional Event Center. Attendees wrote post cards of support at the kickoff event and discussed methods for getting the word out, from yard signs to doorbelling. The volunteer group also covered the cost of billboard signs across district boundaries.
“We’re not taking anything for granted with this vote,” said Cindy Sothen, principal at Chester Elementary and one of dozens of district employees at the launch.
Meanwhile, a number of yard signs and newspaper ads emerged opposing the CV bond. Similar anti-tax slogans were seen in the Mead School District which ran a $49 million bond on the Feb. 8 ballot. On Tuesday, the Mead vote was faring only slightly better than Central Valley’s, with 48 percent in approval.
As far as where the district goes from here, Small said the CVSD board of directors would make a decision on future capital facilities strategies, though no timeline has been announced.
“We can’t jump into the second group of projects until we address these issues first,” Small said.