School districts seek bond money | Part 2

The Carbonado school

Editor’s note: School districts are gearing up for ballot measures seeking hundreds of millions of dollars. In February, three area districts will be asking property owners to provide dollars to significantly upgrade their public facilities. Each is hoping to follow the lead of the Enumclaw School District, which had a proposal authorized a year ago. This week, we look at the proposal being floated by the small Carbonado School District. Last week’s issue covered the White River bond proposal; next up is an article about the Sumner School District request.

Aiming to put modern touches on a historic building, the Carbonado School District will be asking voters to approved a bond issue early next year.

Sitting snugly inside the close-knit Carbonado community, the district has not gone after bond money for a generation. Unlike most districts, Carbonado has supported its operations – educating kids in kindergarten through eighth grade – with state funding and traditional maintenance and operation levies.

But times have dramatically changed since 1986 when the district last went to patrons with a bond request. Now, following a process that began well over a year ago, Carbonado school boosters are asking the community to step up and provide the dollars that will keep the five-building campus operating at contemporary levels.

Voters will decide the bond proposal in February 2016. Passage will require a 60 percent show of support.

District is home to 180 students

The Carbonado School District has a deep, rich history, going back to the days when the community rivaled Tacoma in size. Workers in the company town sent their children to a system that boasted a high school that few remember; a new school building – the brick structure still the centerpiece of the district – was built in 1929.

That building now houses sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade classrooms, along with a gymnasium, outdated restrooms and small administrative offices. Most students are housed in a series of portables: the building for first and second graders, as well as students with special needs, has been around since 1968; the portable home to fourth and fifth graders came on board in 1991; and the building now housing kindergarten and third grade was put in place in 1998. A building used for the district’s library and computer lab was built in 1989.

The Dan Argo Gymnasium, which was constructed in the late 1930, is where students eat lunch and is used for physical education and music programs. None of the bond money is dedicated to that facility.

The sprawling district is small in numbers but geographically large. It shares borders with the Orting and Eatonville districts, as well as neighboring White River. Directly to the east is Mount Rainier National Park.

How much is being sought?

On the February ballot, the Carbonado School District will ask voters to approve a bond request pegged at $4.4 million. That number is misleading, though, as the state would pony up $2.65 million of the total, leaving district property owners on the hook for the remaining $1.75 million, a sum that would be collected during a 20-year span.

Superintendent Scott Hubbard said bond organizers were determined to come up with a financial plan that would address the district’s needs without increasing the tax load for area residents.

Carbonado property owners currently are paying for the bond that was used for construction of White River High School. The property tax assessment is $2.12 per $1,000 of property value and the bonds will be retired at the end of 2015, meaning the tax bill disappears.

Should the Carbonado bond be approved in February, a new collection of $1.80 would be implemented.

An important factor is the White River School District bond proposal that also will be on the February ballot. Through an agreement between the two districts, Carbonado property owners will not be assessed if the White River bond passes.

Because Carbonado is a K-8 district, parents can send their children anywhere beginning with the ninth-grade year. Most, but not all, Carbonado kids head down the hill to White River High, though some attend other, nearby high schools in Enumclaw and Bonney Lake.

How will the money be spent?

Hubbard is quick to term Carbonado’s plan as “modernization,” as there is no new construction planned. The town presently is limited due to water availability and there’s no housing boom in sight; so, there’s no need to increase school capacity.

Nearly all of the work will take place in the main building.

According to a fact sheet provided by the district, almost a dozen items will be addressed should the bond get voter approval. Most visible will be a transformation to the front of the building, where an awning stretches the length of the school and covers a concrete ramp that slopes in both directions.

The ramp was not part of the original building, so its removal is met with enthusiasm by the National Historic Register, which supports a return of buildings to their original appearance and limits what work can be done.

The center section of the building is elevated from the rest, making access difficult. Construction would lower the office space and the basketball court that is home to special events. In addition, a lift will be installed so visitors can watch those events from a mezzanine.

“My No. 1 priority is making the building ADA accessible,” Hubbard said, recalling a time when a mother couldn’t join the rest of her family for an event. Accommodations were quickly made, but she was separated from everyone else.

Another priority is maintaining comfort for students and staff through upgrades to the heating system; also part of the plan is the addition of air conditioning, a luxury the building has never offered.

Other money would be used for technology upgrades in four classrooms; security improvements that would allow for a lockdown during an emergency; replacement of some windows; and renovation of bathrooms so they are no longer accessible only from outdoors.

District is also proposing an M&O levy

Also on February’s ballot, the Carbonado School District will ask voters to renew the maintenance and operation levy last OK’d in 2012.

Like other school districts, Carbonado counts on M&O money to continue with current offerings. The present levy provides 25 percent of the total operating budget for the district and pays for things like transportation, school maintenance projects, co-curricular offerings and some mandated by the state but not fully funded by Olympia.

Hubbard is hesitant to attach dollars and cents to the coming M&O levy, instead emphasizing that it is a replacement levy without a tax increase.