The Longview School Board is asking voters to approve a $121.6 million bond to refurbish or replace many of its elementary schools. The bond would improve safety, create more space for students and accomplish a variety of other admirable objectives.
That said, we here at The Daily News are conflicted. We have supported every school bond or levy of the past because we believe in education. We recognize how hard teachers and administrators work to teach our kids. And we appreciate the hundreds of hours the facilities committee has put into crafting this proposal.
But the price tag is very, very high. While school improvements are necessary, the bond would put a big tax burden on property owners, especially viewed in light of past and future history.
Given the substantial cost, we urge citizens to vote their conscience on the $121.6 million school bond.
Voters in Longview last approved a bond in 2001. It financed the extensive remodeling of Monticello and Cascade middle schools, built Mount Solo Middle School and replaced the historic slate roof on R.A. Long High School.
At the time, the $30 million bond was the most costly bond voters here ever approved, but it pales by comparison to the bond voters will decide on come Nov. 7. Even after adjusting for inflation, the 2001 bond would equal about $41.5 million in today’s dollars. That still is only about a third as much as the district is now seeking.
No wonder Longview School Superintendent Dan Zorn said at an event recently that the dollar amount of the proposed bond is, “a heavy lift for voters.”
The district has a team of volunteers working to get the bond passed. One of their messages is that, despite its size, the bond won’t raise your school property tax. This may or may not be true.
It’s true in the short run. Washington legislators recently adopted fundamental changes in the way public schools are funded, and for districts such as Longview it means a property tax rate reduction starting in 2019, likewise for most rural districts. “Why not use that savings to pay for the bond?” its supporters ask.
The problem is what happens in the long run. Under the new financing systems, many homeowners will get some property tax savings – but only for a short period of time. This is because school districts will be free to pass additional maintenance and operation levies starting in 2019, so homeowner savings could quickly turn into a property tax increase compared to today.
And another possible tax increase looms on the horizon. Even if it takes on $121 million in debt now (a bond, after all, is a form of loan that must be paid back), the district still will be eligible to borrow up to $160 million more. This just happens to be the estimated cost of building a new high school.
This leads us to believe the $121.6 million proposed bond could be the first of a two-part request. The second part could very well be another $160 million to consolidate R.A. Long and Mark Morris into one big high school, though the district has not yet made a formal proposal for it.
Yet the bond before voters would do many needed things. It would replace Mint Valley, Northlake and Olympic elementary schools at their existing locations. Numerous safety and security projects would be completed throughout the district and the bond would provide a facility for our special education preschool program. And just last week the district pledged to consider spending around $4 million on upgrading athletic facilities, should any bond money be left over from the other projects
This Longview School bond is a tough decision for voters. This community supports schools, supports education and wants only the best for the kids.
The question is, can we afford this?
A good education is a key part of living a productive, happy life. We’re not sure this bond balances the community’s ability to pay with the needs of the district.