In an unexpected boost to Toledo’s long struggle to address its deteriorating high school, the Legislature has earmarked $10 million in its supplemental budget to replace the building, state Rep. Richard DeBolt (R-Chehalis) confirmed Friday.
To be eligible for the windfall, Toledo School District voters must pass a $7 million bond by June 2019.
Voters have rejected four previous school bonds since 2014, most recently in February. These bonds ranged from $12.2 million to $23.5 million and would primarily have paid to upgrade the 42-year-old high school.
Superintendent Chris Rust said when the February bond failed, he reached out to state Reps. DeBolt and Ed Orcutt (R-Kalama) to seek $2.5 million in state funding to install cooling and ventilation systems and replace some windows and doors.
Instead of putting money into an old building, the legislators offered to help build a new one, Rust said by phone Friday.
A new school would cost at least $25 million. But between a $7 million bond, the supplemental budget appropriation and about $8 million in matching State Construction Assistance Program funds, the school district would have enough money.
The capital budget specifies that the money can only be used to build a new school, not fix up the current high school. Only the shop, gym and potentially the common area would not be replaced.
The tax rate for a $7 million bond would be 99 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation ($198 annually on a $200,000 home), Rust said. By comparison, the bond that voters rejected in November would have cost property owners $1.94 per thousand, or $388 annually on a $200,000 home.
“If I wanted to buy a $25,000 car and I only had to put up $7,000, I think I would probably do that,” Rust said.
However, Rust said he no longer can gauge whether a bond measure will pass. The community has grown increasingly frustrated with each new attempt, he said.
“The last bond, the biggest criticism we got was people thinking the district couldn’t take ‘No’ for an answer. They couldn’t see it as a different question each time,” he said. “I don’t want to put anything out there to anger the community.”
He plans to speak with outspoken critics individually to talk about the potential of a $7 million bond and whether they would support it. Without clear support, Rust said he doesn’t think the bond would be worth pursuing.
“If we can’t get folks to rally behind it, I’d rather go back to legislators and say, ‘I’m really sorry but maybe someone else in the state could use these dollars (because) our community doesn’t seem to want it,’ ” he said.
Rust said he hopes the representatives will attend Toledo’s large community gathering on March 22 to announce the budget item.
Toledo has three chances between now and June 2019 to pass the bond. The earliest it could be on the ballot would be August.
“We don’t have to rush and we need to get it right because I really believe this is our last opportunity,” Rust said. “It isn’t going to get any better than this. Costs are going to keep going up, and if we can’t take advantage of this deal, there’s no hope the Legislature is going to do this again.”