Editorial: Everett schools bond builds path toward careers

By The Herald Editorial Board

More than construction of a fourth high school for a growing student population for the Everett School District, the $330.6 million bond the district is asking voters to approve in the Feb. 13 special election will fund construction and renovation that prepare all students for new pathways to college and the careers of their future.

This bond represents the district’s third attempt to pass a bond that includes funding for a planned fourth high school in the district’s south end. Two attempts in 2014 fell short of the required 60 percent approval mark by less than 2 percentage points. A bond request in 2016, minus the new high school, was approved by voters.

The need for a fourth high school, as well as other improvements throughout the district, should not be delayed further. Population and enrollment expectations alone make that need clear. Fall enollment this year was just shy of 20,000 students. The district will need to accomodate an estimated 1,600 additional students within the next decade.

Without approval of the bond, the district expects that it will need to add to rather than phase out its reliance on portable classrooms. The district currently must rely on 115 portables thoughout the district and would have to increase that to 145 by 2026 without the bond’s passage. Portables, while they help the district address temporary fluctations in enrollment, offer limited years of service and complicate security on campus.

The district’s high school enrollment is expected to reach about 6,600 students by 2025. The district built Cascade High School when enrollment at Everett High School school topped 2,300 students, and it built Henry M. Jackson High when Cascade’s enrollment reached a similar mark. Jackson’s enrollment is now at more than 2,450 students.

Construction of a fourth high school will also allow the Everett School District to launch an innovative approach to career readiness, allowing each of the four schools to offer a high-tech vocational learning center with classes built around the educational needs of a student’s planned career. Under the Career Pathways program already in planning:

Everett High would offer a center focused on medical and health careers, keyed to its location near Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.

Cascade, within view of Boeing and Paine Field’s manufacturing center, will offer a concentration in aerospace and advanced manufacturing.

Jackson, near many of the county’s related industries, will offer course studies in information and community technology.

And the fourth, as yet unnamed high school set to open in 2022, would focus on careers in energy and sustainability, offering opportunities to begin studies in computers and information technology, energy, transportation, logistics and more.

These four career paths will give students early exposure and experience that should provide a headstart as they continue education and training after high school to prepare for jobs that will pay well and allow them to remain in Snohomish County and Washington state if they wish.

While $216.8 million of the bond will go toward construction of the new high school, the remaining third will go toward construction and renovation projects at the three high schools in preparation for the career pathways program, as well as modernization of the cafeteria at Everett High that was last improved nearly 40 years ago.

Other investments in the bond include $38 million for construciton of 36 elementary school classrooms throughout the district, allowing the district to take advantage of state funds to reduce K-3 class size but also improve safety at Emerson and Jefferson elementaries.

Also planned are electrical, heating, ventialation and air-conditioning upgrades throughout the district and the purchase of property for a 20th elementary school.

The school district took some heat recently for its use of eminent domain when it was unable initially to reach agreements with three property owners regarding sale of land the district needs for the fourth high school and the district’s 19th elementary school.

Payments have since been forwarded, including $10,000 payments intended to reimburse the property owners for legal, relocation and other costs. A court is now reviewing the district’s payments, each based on market appraisals, and will determine if the district needs to provide additional compensation.

While property condemnation is a difficult process, district taxpayers should recognize that it assures the the district is providing fair compensation without making a gift of district resources.

In that same light, voters should also note the effort the district has made to keep its total tax rate, including past bonds and levies, at reasonable and stable levels. Assuming passage of both bond and levy in the Feb. 13 election, the district’s tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value is expected to decrease from $5.88 in 2017 and $5.41 this year, to a rate of about $4.89 per $1,000 between 2019 and 2024. At that rate, the owner of a home with a median value of $347,000 would pay an annual property tax to the school district of about $1,697.

That’s no small investment, but it is an investment that will provide meaningful and quality educations for all students in every school at every grade.

Feb. 13 special election

Voters in several districts in Snohomish County are being asked to submit ballots for the Feb. 13 special election for levies and/or bonds in their community.

Ballots have been mailed, and can be returned by mail (with a postage stamp) or at one of several ballot drop boxes throughout the county by 8 p.m. Feb. 13. For a list of drop-box locations, go to tinyurl.com/SnoCoDropBoxList.

New voters can register until Feb. 5 in person at the county elections office.

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