CORRECTION: The Courier-Herald misreported the updated bond property tax impact estimates; the estimates are actually higher than what ESD previously estimated, not lower. This article has been updated.
The Enumclaw School District Board of Directors met earlier this month to go over information they’ve gathered over the last few months about their bond proposals.
The board. which met during a workshop in Sept. 6, has yet to make a decision on which direction they want to go in regards to the bond, but the December deadline is fast approaching.
To sum up, the district put forward to the community three bond scenario, each more expensive than the last.
The first, which is being toted as “the essential and immediate needs” involves building two new elementary schools (tearing Byron Kibler and J.J. Smith to make one building, and construct another in Ten Trails), a new Birth to 5 Center (which will be part of the new Enumclaw elementary), plus other maintenance and upgrades, including security, to all other school buildings.
The second includes everything in the first scenario, but also involves constructing a new Performing Arts Center for the high school. Doing so would mean the planned maintenance and upgrades of the current auditorium would not be done.
And the third is the mother load: a brand-new sports stadium that would be available to various teams and events year-round, plus everything in scenarios one and two.
Some preliminary costs have been tossed around since these options were presented to the community, and are still in flux, though current estimates more or less match what has already been reported: around $181 million for scenario one; about $221 million for scenario two; and $243 million for scenario three.
The district already gave estimates on how much each scenario will affect property taxes, and updated those numbers at the last board meeting. Please note that the property tax rates below includes what the bond adds to property taxes, as well as the district’s EP&O levy, the current tech levy and the remaining payments on the 2015 bond.
In mid-June, ESD predicted the combined property tax rate for scenario one would be about $4.18 per $1,000 in assessed property value; a new estimated tax rate is about $4.26.
Scenario two was originally expected to be around $4.44; new data suggests it could be closer to around $4.53.
And scenario three, estimated to be around $4.60, is now looking to be nearer to $4.67.
Of course, the general economy, inflation, and other variables can, and most likely will, affect these estimates.
GRANT MONEY AND OTHER FUNDS
Tax revenue — or at least, local tax revenue — may be bolstered with state funds, reducing the pressure on district residents’ wallets, at least a little bit.
According to ESD’s consultant on this bond, the Wenaha Group, there is some money available to ESD through the School Construction Assistance Program (SCAP).
We’re “starting to get a picture of what the district’s eligibility is,” said Wenaha Group’s OSPI specialist Heath Gardner said, adding that ESD appears to be eligible for a “moderate” modernization/replacement grant for a new Byron Kibler Elementary.
“In the big picture, it’s pretty small,” Gardner continued, adding he hopes to have a concrete number by the next meeting.
SCHOOL POPULATION AND CAPACITY
While security is a top concern for both locals and ESD, school capacity is also a major item to be addressed on the district’s list.
Maybe you haven’t noticed, but Black Diamond — specifically the Ten Trails development — is growing quickly, and even though ESD build a new elementary school after passing a bond in 2015 to keep up with the city’s population growth, capacity is expected to be exceeded next year.
“All of the infrastructure that was prepared for the new housing up there was bought up very fast once the builders starting buildings homes,” said ESD’s Financial Director Kyle Fletcher. “The inventory went way faster than they imagined.”
According to the district, Black Diamond Elementary’s current student population is 378, with a capacity of about 430. The following year, the school expects to house about 446 students.
That’s not too far over capacity, and the district may be able to shoulder the 2023-2024 (482 students) and 2024-2025 (510 students) school year population estimates using Westwood Elementary. But come 2025-2026, the student population is expected to explode to nearly 700, and the following year, 870.
And by the 2028-2029 school year, Black Diamond’s elementary school population is estimated to exceed 1,000.
This means if the bond does not pass in February, the district is going to have to utilize other options to deal with the rising number of students.
“While it would not be ideal for students and families, it would be necessary for the district to utilize any available capacity in other elementary schools,” McCartney said in a recent email interview. “The district may also need to invest funding to provide additional classrooms through the use of portables, on the school sites that allow for them.”
And if the bond does pass, the number of students in Black Diamond will still exceed ESD’s capacity in that area; this means the district will, around that time, likely use land already purchased within the city to build a third elementary school in the Lawson Hills development.
A REVIEW OF COMMUNITY REACTION
To gauge how the Enumclaw and Black Diamond communities thought about the bond scenarios, and which they may prefer, the district held a Thought Exchange session for anyone to submit their opinions and rate others.
Only about 287 people participated on the platform, a very small chunk of the district’s overall population. Most of those who participated were parents (43%), followed by employees (30%) and community members (27%), though district PIO Jessica McCarney noted that some participants may identify as more than one option.
According to the Thought Exchange program, the top rated words used in people’s thoughts appeared to be, in order of most popular to less: “expensive”, “security”, “deserve”, and “invest”/”priority”/”safety”/”future” each tying for fourth place.
Based on the number of comments, bond scenario three received the largest share of positive comments, nearly 70, while comments favoring no bond scenario at all totaled just above 50, and scenario one received just over 40.
IT’S DECISION TIME — SOON
This recent board workshop was not the last, and there will be additional updates in the coming months.
Pre-bond updates are scheduled for Sept. 6 and 19, as well as Oct. 3 and 17.
The school board is expected to make a final decision on which bond scenario to finalize by the Nov. 21 meeting, and officially put it on the Feb. 14, 2023 special election ballot by Dec. 16.
For those who want to participate and learn more about the bond scenarios, there will be additional stakeholder meetings on October.