ESD community FOCUS committee discussing redistricting among other capacity solutions

Black Diamond Elementary is running out of space for the fast-growing Ten Trails community.

Editor’s note: Numerous corrections and clarifications have been made to this article, including the date the FOCUS Committee was formed; which construction projects were and were not funded by the 2015 bond; and the process for citizen-initiated school district redistricting.

Should Black Diamond students be a part of a different district?

That’s one of the many conversations the Enumclaw School District’s Facilities Oversight for Capital Utilization and Sustainability (FOCUS) committee has had over the last five months as it explores what ESD’s needs will be two decades into the future.

The 21-person committee (which includes longtime former ESD Board Member Nancy Merrill, former state Representative Cathy Dahlquist, Enumclaw Councilmember Anthony Wright, and Black Diamond Councilmember Kristiana de Leon) was formed on Jan. 22 in light of two failed bonds, and is expected to review ESD’s various needs and deliver a recommendation to the school board on how to address them, come November.

The committee has no power to make decisions for the ESD Board.

Andre Koch, vice chair said the redistricting conversation is only one of many the FOCUS committee has had these last eight meetings, like looking at the conditions of the buildings as well as maintenance and facility needs, enrollment projections, and selling buildings to subsidize construction of news schools, and more.

“A lot of interesting information,” Koch, a father of two at Black Diamond Elementary, and principal at Sawyer Woods Elementary in the Kent School District. “The growth is happening, and we’re going to have to adjust to what that is… we’re going to have to have a plan.”

The conversation surrounding whether Black Diamond should become a part of the Kent or Tahoma districts has been put forward by Dahlquist.

While she introduced the idea, Dalhquist said she isn’t automatically in support of it — she just wants the committee to be thinking out-of-the-box. However, it’s been a topic of much conversation on Facebook community groups for years when issues like bonds come up.

Dahlquist said that because Black Diamond is growing at such a rapid rate (the Washington State Office of Financial Management has reported that Black Diamond has been one of, it not the fastest, growing cities, percentage-wise, since 2021, though it was knocked out of the top 10 this year) the city is expected to need three new elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school by 2044.

“And that’s just on Black Diamond’s side,” Dahlquist said, and that the taxpayer burden to support Black Diamond growth is “untenable” for Enumclaw residents, as exemplified by the rejection of a $103 million bond earlier this year for just one new building in Enumclaw, a combined early education and elementary school.

But Koch said redistricting is not a realistic option.

“The Tahoma School District is already at capacity, and adding on Black Diamond would put them over the edge,” he said. “It would be moving Enumclaw School District’s problems over to Tahoma’s.”

Not only that, but redistricting Black Diamond might actually put more pressure on Enumclaw taxpayers, said ESD Director of Business Kyle Fletcher, because the city is expected to outpace Enumclaw’s population growth and assessed property values to continue rising.

“In a scenario where the value of properties and the increased number of properties (new housing, etc.) continues to push the Black Diamond [assessed property value] higher and perhaps eventually greater than the Enumclaw area A/V, then the tax burden could, in theory, be less for Enumclaw area residents than if that population of the tax base was annexed away from the district,” Fletcher said. “This would be especially true if the cost of school rebuilds/repairs over time in Enumclaw (where we currently have eight of our school facilities in various stages of aging) were as much or greater than the cost of the new schools in Black Diamond.”

While redistricting remains one option, bonds remains another — but Koch said the school district shouldn’t rely on its community to approve these potential future bonds in the future to build new facilities, which means ESD needs to find a third option.

One possible option currently being explored is ESD partnering with Oakpointe about how the Ten Trails developer can support the district and potentially purchase district assets within the development to provide the district with funding to build an additional Black Diamond Elementary School.

“That partnership… is a unique opportunity that really is unprecedented. Developers don’t do things like this,” Koch said. But at the same time, he continued, the developer’s agreement to allow ESD to collect mitigation fees from developers for the purchase of land in Ten Trails for school facilities “without having to purchase it at the taxpayers expense was pretty unprecedented too.”

Such a partnership, he continued, would be an immediate fix, but might not address other district needs, like aging buildings in Enumclaw.

Brian Ross, chief executive officer of Oakpointe, has been unavailable for an interview about the current discussions between ESD and the developer.

Koch said the FOCUS committee will be deciding on July 2, after print deadline, whether to move forward with discussing redistricting or put the issue to bed.


Koch suggested that ESD is facing this current predicament is because not enough residents have voted to improve district facilities for decades.

For example, a 1994 bond for $24.8 million to build a new junior high and sports field failed by 54%; to be approved, the bond needed 60% approval.

Two million was shaved off when the district ran two bonds in May 1995 — one for a junior high with a $17.8 million bond ask, the other a $4.9 million for a new sports facility — failed again.

And another two bonds, a $17.8 million bond for a junior high and a new $4.9 million bond for high school renovations, was also denied by voters.

ESD continued its losing streak in May 1997 when a $30.8 million bond, this time for a middle school and other district-wide improvements, narrowly failed by half a percent.

The district finally had some luck that September when a $31.2 million bond was passed with 61% of the vote to finally build a new middle school and add classrooms to the high school.

And a 2015 bond for high school renovations and the construction to replace Black Diamond Elementary also passed. However, according to the district, cost projections given to the district from third-party BLRB Architects were inaccurate, so while Black Diamond Elementary was torn down and replaced, and Enumclaw High was renovated (including “major upgrades” to the gym) the new performing arts center and other sports upgrades did not materialize.

The last two bonds in May 2023 and May 2024 to build new elementary schools failed.


If the Enumclaw School District Board of Directors or local residents find redistricting is good for district or the community, there are two ways to go about it.

The first is a resident petition, which would require more than 50% of active voters in the city affected by the redistricting to sign a petition.

Another way to redistrict is for the majority of a school board to initiate the petition.

If both districts agree to the petition, the local Educational Service District (Enumclaw is located in Puget Sound 121) writes up the order.

For either a citizens-petition or district petition, if the districts involved can’t come to an agreement, the Educational Service District holds a hearing to approve or reject the petition. Appeals on the Educational Service District’s decision can only be filed if it doesn’t follow its rules or acts in an arbitrary manner.

If any petition, citizen- or board-initiated, is rejected at any point in these processes, a new petition can’t be put forward for another five years.

The Washington State Attorney General has said that parts of school districts cannot form its own school district by breaking off from their current one.