Renton school bond measure fails

April 10, 2008

By Jim Feehan

The Renton School Board voted unanimously at its March 26 meeting to rerun the $150 million construction bond measure – which lost by 78 votes – on the May 20 ballot.

A $111.5 million four-year replacement maintenance and operations levy and a $33 six-year technology levy both passed by comfortable margins.

Mary Alice Heuschel, superintendent of the Renton School District, urged the board to put the measure on the May ballot.

“The later we delay this, construction costs will continue to go up,” she said.

Board member Lynn Desmarais agreed.

“It’s the responsible thing to do,” she said. “It will save us millions of dollars.”

School officials say passage of the bond measure will help alleviate crowding at Hazen High School by adding a 10-classroom wing. Enrollment has outpaced the available space for classrooms there. Five years ago, the enrollment was less than 1,100 pupils. The school now has 1,360 students, Hazen Principal Sue Beeson said.

The school will also get improvements to the kitchen, gymnasium and athletic fields. The bond also includes an $8 million overhaul for Renton Memorial Stadium, where all district high school teams play football, soccer, and track and field.

Karin Blakley of Newcastle, who has a son at Hazen, said in an increasingly global marketplace, it’s important to investment in a first-rate education.

“I view every dollar sensibly spent on education to be an investment – one which delivers positive returns not only today, but more importantly, for generations to come,” she said. “I hope that all who vote on our education levies and bond measures will give them careful consideration and reflect upon the investments that were made for their own education by those who went before them.”

The district has had its share of close bond measure elections. In May 2002, a bond measure failed by seven votes. One year later, the bond measure won by 61 percent. That measure paid for the construction of Hazelwood Elementary School and three other elementary schools in Renton.

Newcastle City Councilwoman Carol Simpson, who has a son at McKnight Middle School, said the district has a good reputation when it comes to building new schools with bond money. Simpson said some Newcastle residents were concerned about the price tag.

“In talking to constituents in Newcastle, there are a number of people who are struggling to pay their property taxes,” she said. “My hope would have been that they would have trimmed this back a bit, but I’m supporting the bond measure.”

Property taxes will remain about $3.44 for every $1,000 of assessed value, although homeowners whose property value has increased will pay more.

Randy Matheson, district spokesman said it would cost the district between $60,000 and $90,000 to put the measure on the May ballot.

Historically, Newcastle, Newport Hills, Kennydale and the Renton Highlands overwhelmingly vote yes on levies and bond measures, Matheson said. Neighborhoods near downtown Renton and southwest Renton have more residents voting no on school measures, he said.

Board member Marcie Maxwell said campaign organizers need to target those areas, as well as others, in delivering their message.

“There are rooms at Hazen that need this sooner rather than later,” she said.

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