The Washington School Board Wednesday reviewed four options for a new bond issue proposal to present to voters in the next year.
After voters rejected a $65 million bond issue this past April, administrators, the school board and a community focus group have been meeting to plan the district’s next move.
All four options were voted on by a focus group, which makes recommendations to the school board.
Two options were presented as front runners by Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer. Those options are Option 1B and Option 2. Option 1B is the same as the original proposal with slight modifications, an approximate $61 million bond issue with a 43-cent tax increase.
Option 2 is the original proposal, minus construction of a new elementary building, a $47 million bond issue with a 35-cent tax increase. Washington Middle School would be converted into an elementary school temporarily under this scenario.
The original proposal was a $65 million bond issue with a 46-cent property tax increase.
The decision on which option to present to voters will be decided by the school board at a future meeting.
The next meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 30, at 7 p.m., at the district office.
Before the focus group voted on the options, VanLeer said, the group was given data to gain a historical perspective regarding ballot initiatives of the past. Approval ratings, total votes and proposed project details were shared dating back to 1990.
VanLeer said tax increases are not generally well received in the community and that the district has not passed a bond issue requiring an increase to the tax levy of more than 3.7 cents in the last 30 years.
“No matter what we ask for, if it’s an increase, it fails — that’s what the trends tell us,” VanLeer said. About 65 to 70 percent of school-age children attend schools in the district. In many districts, that number is closer to 85 to 90 percent, VanLeer said.
“We work under a different dynamic,” she said, adding that having several parochial schools and a regional parochial high school makes Washington unique.
VanLeer said there are about 27,000 potential voters. Students’ parents comprise about 20.5 percent of that total and staff about 1.5 percent of overall voters.
She said that makes it difficult to pass a bond issue because there has to be 57.14 percent in favor of the issue rather than a simple majority.
“You (need) a lot of support from non-parent and community members in the voting population,” she said.
Another task of the focus group is to advise when to present the issue.
“In November, we don’t have a chance of winning,” she told the board. “Even if our turnout was 100 percent we couldn’t win.”
Reasons to avoid November include that is a presidential election year, which could mean an anti-tax climate. Also, VanLeer said, there is a tobacco tax on the ballot, in which officials are touting that money will go to schools, and a minimum wage hike is proposed.
The only other opportunity to present the issue with a 4/7 passage is in April 2013.
“We can’t make enough cuts to finance $50 to $65 million,” VanLeer said. “But we may still have to make reductions because if we don’t pass it we have to pay for more modular trailers, we have to make different decisions about our technology needs. We have a different set of problems because we’re having to put on Band-Aids out of our operations (budget).”
Additionally, the merger of Mercy and Patients First could lead to fewer tax dollars for the district. Some Mercy operations are tax-exempt.
A list of what will have to be cut should the issue not pass will be determined by the board of education prior to the proposal going on the ballot.
The list of reductions was categorized into phases several years ago. Phase one and two cuts already have been implemented.
“There are a number of things to consider with program efficiency and space,” VanLeer said. “Right now we have a rough list established, but nothing has been set in stone or decided by any means.”
Phase three potential cuts could include reducing funding to Growing Place Preschool, Parents as Teachers and gifted education. Other cuts could mean reducing transportation, making building cuts, discontinuing middle school athletic activities and home track meets. What would be cut or reduced is still being discussed.
“The cuts are real and we will need to make them quickly,” VanLeer said. “Failure means execution of those reductions.”
The ballot option and reduction list will be further discussed at the August and future board meetings.