High school bond headed to voters
Cheney School Board votes 4-1 to send second school construction measure in four years to 2015 ballot
The Cheney School District board of directors voted 4-1 to authorize a Feb. 10, 2015 ballot measure seeking voter approval of $44,885,830 in general obligations bonds to fund expansion and remodeling of the district’s high school.
The money would build 12 new classrooms, remove eight existing portables, construct and equip specialty academic spaces — a language clarification allowing construction of a new Three Springs High School on the grounds — along with a new gym and new wrestling/aerobics room. Also included is an expanded cafeteria and student commons, a new main hallway to help alleviate congestion, added security, parking corridors and entryways and a new 700-seat events auditorium.
The public is being asked to approve a 75-cent increase per $1,000 of assessed property tax valuation of its current school district tax rate, projected at $5.04 in 2015. If approved, the rate would increase to $5.79 in 2016 and remain there until 2027, baring approval of additional bonds or levy increases.
The estimated levy rate was one of the reasons Director James Whiteley cast the only no vote. Whiteley was chair of the citizen’s committee that worked to promote the last school district bond vote in 2010, a voter-approved $79 million measure leading to construction of two new middle schools and a new elementary school.
Whiteley said the committee used information from bond consultants to assure voters the tax rate would never rise above $5. School district officials said in Cheney Free Press stories in November 2009 and January 2010 that residents would pay the then-current $4.96 per $1,000 in assessed property value or less due to other levies set to expire.
According to information from Public Information Management, Inc., the district’s financial consultant, the district’s total tax rate was $4.89 in 2010, rose to $5.09 in 2011, dropped to $4.87 in 2012 before rising to $5.14 last year. It is currently at $5.06 per $1,000 of assessed value.
“I’m still struggling with that,” Whiteley said of the rate. He also said the committee received design information that later was shown to be inaccurate when the two middle schools were built.
Also expressing reservations was Cheney resident Bill Johns, who presented the district with a handout of concerns and alternative proposals addressing the high school’s growth problems. Johns proposed the district reduce the size of the bond to $11.65 million, noting there are two gyms and a wrestling room at the high school along with a small theater. He also noted the existence of two gyms nearby at Betz Elementary School and Cheney Middle School, along with a new stage for performances at the latter.
Johns said a facilities plan prepared for the district by NAC Architects in 2009-2010 listed the need for a new elementary school in Airway Heights by around 2017. He pointed out that portions of Betz, Salnave, Sunset and Windsor elementary schools were not remodeled during upgrades made in 2001, and that those portions would be between 30-45 years old by 2022, the earliest the district could be eligible for any possible state matching funds.
School board president Rick Mount said he understood the issues raised by Whiteley and Johns, adding he doesn’t take the responsibility of putting the bond measure out to voters lightly.
“It’s a huge amount of money,” Mount said.
But he also expressed concerns about high school students walking outside to attend classes in the portables, being late for class due to congestion and that the high school’s award winning music programs have never had an adequate performing arts center to hold concerts, as other high schools do.
“It concerns me that we’re not giving our students the best opportunity to learn,” Mount said. “I really think it’s about time we provide for this group of kids. Ultimately, it’s going to be a decision of the voters whether they approve of this or not.”
Also voting yes were directors Marcie Estrellado, Suzanne Dolle and Henry Browne.
John McCallum can be reached at email@example.com.