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CR school bond fails for third time, but voters OK boost to operations levy

CR school bond fails for third time, but voters OK boost to operations levy

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'Pre-bond' planning for Castle Rock schools

Ahead of the Castle Rock school bond election, district officials hosted 'pre-bond' community information meetings, some of which included tables with modeling blocks, where residents could create a potential design for a new middle school. The bond failed in its third attempt Tuesday, failing about 10 percentage points short of the necessary 60% approval to pass. 

Castle Rock School District is "back at the drawing board" for how to replace its ailing middle school after a facility bond measure failed for the third consecutive time. 

However, Superintendent Ryan Green said the district appears to be on the "right track" because voters still approved a replacement operations levy that ran alongside the bond. And the bond received greater support this year than it's last go around. 

"It’s a baby step. Our levy went up ... which is great, because that’s more money for our students and our schools," Greene said Tuesday night. "I think this was a great first step, and it's just a matter of talking to our community and (asking), 'If $34 million is not what they want to approve (for a bond), what will they approve?' ”

The $34.7 million bond fell nearly 10 percentage points short of the supermajority needed to pass, receiving 50.6% approval. Voters in the Vader portion of the district overwhelmingly rejected the bond, with 70.4% of voters there casting "no" ballots. 

But the bond fared slightly better than the $42.4 million measure the district ran in November 2018. That measure earned just 47% approval.

The 21-year bond would have cost taxpayers $1.67 per $1,000 in assessed property value, or about $334 annually on a $200,000 home. Combined with an $15 million state matching grant, the bond would have raised $49.7 million for projects. 

It would have paid for a new middle middle school to replace the nearly 70-year-old building. The measure also would have included $5.6 million of renovations at the elementary school, including secured entrances, roof and HVAC replacements and improvements to the music rooms. 

“Right now we have to go back and plan on how to use our (current) facilities as best we can. ... The growth is coming. It's not like we are getting smaller," Greene said. "It's a matter of how we adjust from here on out." 

District officials will "go back to the drawing board" next week during a facilities planning meeting, Greene said. School Board members may consider running a fourth bond measure February 2021, he said. 

“We just kicked the can down the road for a year. ... Now we have to re-evaluate where we are and go back to figure out how do we gt the best situation for our kids in Castle Rock." 

Despite the bond's failure, the district's operations levy passed with overwhelming support. Of all six Cowlitz County school districts asking for a levy this election, Castle Rock received the highest approval rating in Tuesday's returns. About 58% of ballots, or 1,700 voters, OK'ed the levy. The measure received 60.6% approval in Cowlitz County.

“For Castle Rock, it’s bittersweet. To have the highest number in Cowlitz County on the levy is really cool. I think it says a lot about where we are at and what we are doing,” Greene said. “But having the bond fail is tough, because we worked really hard on it. … It’s good news and bad news.”

The levy will cost property owners  $1.98 per $1,000 assessed property value. It will raise about $4.95 million over its two-year period, which ends in 2022. Owners of a $200,000 home will pay about $396 annually for the levy, or about $96 more than in 2020. 

Collectively, the bond and levy would have been a $2.20 per $1,000 assessed value rate increase, or a $440 annual increase on a $200,000 home. Greene said he thinks some voters may have rejected the bond because increasing taxes that much is "a huge ask." 

"I think it comes back to an increase of property taxes over the last five years putting the strain on people. ... It's not that our community doesn't support schools. I think they do," Greene said. "But when you are asking them to double their taxes, it's a tough call." 

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