The first week of spring has seen a slew of campaign signs sprouting in yards across the East Valley School District.
The placards call attention to a $33.75 million capital facilities initiative that will be part of an April 26 vote on a proposed property tax increase – the fourth time since March 2008 that EVSD has run such a bond. The hike of 86 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value would support renovation efforts at each of the district’s buildings, other than Mountain View Middle School and East Valley High School. If passed, the measure would also include a $32.5 million state match.
For Ruth Gifford, chairperson of a group called Citizens for East Valley, the task of getting the word out is essential to earning the required supermajority – or any margin over 60 percent. The district has fallen short in each of the three previous elections.
“It’s about getting from that 50-percent mark to 60 percent,” Gifford said. “We’re hoping that people understand these school buildings are like their homes – over time, you have to repair them.”
The pro-bond effort includes a series of three mailers to residents as well as e-mail chains, a Facebook page and Web site. A door-to-door campaign – comprised of teams representing each school – began in early February.
On Jan. 4, the East Valley board of directors approved a plan that will restructure schools from a current kindergarten through sixth grade system to a K-8 program. The approach will mean moving middle school students to one of four elementary schools and transitioning East Valley Middle School to an administrative office. The plan will also involve selling the building that currently houses the administration and closing Mountain View Middle School where only the gym would remain in use.
Mike Bly served on a committee last year that researched the idea of what is now being referred to as “revisioning.” He said the shift is about “improving the overall educational experience at East Valley.”
Now Bly, a 1990 East Valley High School graduate, is working to support the vote that would cover upgrades at East Farms, Trentwood, Otis Orchards and Trent elementary schools. He notes that while revisioning will occur regardless of how the election turns out, buildings throughout the district are in line for improvements.
“I know there are people opposed to revisioning, but regardless of their opinion, these schools need to be rebuilt,” Bly said.
Art Tupper is one East Valley resident who has spoken out against the K-8 transition as well as the tax increase for capital facilities. Now retired, Tupper spent 28 years as a teacher and said maintenance and operation levies – EVSD last passed a three-year M&O initiative in February 2009 on the same ballot where a $34.5 million bond failed – should be going toward building upkeep.
“Where does the M&O money go?” Tupper said. “It doesn’t look to me that the taxpayer money is being spent wisely.”
Tupper referred to a recent issue of the East Valley School District newsletter which, in his words, “show buildings that have been poorly maintained.” He also mentioned renovations that took place at East Valley Middle School and Mountain View Middle School in 1994 while questioning the district’s plans to turn EVMS into an administrative building and to eventually tear Mountain View down.
“Is this a wise decision for the voters who paid for the construction of the buildings and expected them to be properly maintained for 30 years? I don’t think so,” Tupper said.
East Valley Superintendent John Glenewinkel has responded to claims by Tupper and others by referencing some $800,000 in annual district expenditures for maintenance and saying the majority of M&O money goes toward “maintaining a level of service” including activities like athletics as well as support staff, including counselors, teachers and librarians. He also points to decreasing enrollment at Mountain View – a school built for a capacity of 700 students now holds 330. Closing 100,000 of classroom space would save the district $1.3 million annually, closing a $1.4 million budget gap, Glenewinkel said.
“We’re spending so much money fixing infrastructure that we can’t make the capital investment to move forward,” Glenewinkel said.
Glenewinkel added that while there were upgrades to the two middle schools in 1994, the improvements involved “noninstructional areas” and “could not be considered a complete modernization.”
Tupper said he is working with a citizen-led group that worked against bonds in the Mead and Central Valley school districts earlier this year –initiatives that both went down to resounding defeats. He said the opposition would likely have signs out before the end of the month and is scheduled to send out three mailers.
Tupper also has spoken out against revisioning, saying issues like bullying and substance use in upper grades would have a negative influence on K-5 students.
The March 2008 capital facilities vote in East Valley fell short by just over 200 votes while the May ballot later that year failed by 130 votes. Gifford acknowledged that having a ballot during tax season is not ideal, but expressed hope that voters would consider not only the condition of the schools, but what she described as “a bargain” to fix them.
The district has retired its debt from the last capital facilities initiative to pass back in 1996. Residents paid $6.36 per $1,000 in 1999 and would pay $4.39 per $1,000 if the April 26 vote is approved.