$97 million bond calls for middle school

December 1, 2011

By Christina Lords

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Boundaries for Renton School District wouldn’t be redrawn until after election

The Renton School District will put three measures before voters Feb. 14 — including a $97 million building improvement bond that might have big implications for where students from Newcastle attend middle school.

The bond would fund a new middle school in Newcastle at the former Hazelwood Elementary School site, now home to the Renton Academy. The academy provides alternative education services for students in the district. It will be moved to a new location if the bond passes, according to district spokesman Randy Matheson.

“We can do something with that property, and roughly an 800-student middle school is what we’re thinking right now,” he said. “Right now, McKnight Middle School has over 1,200 kids. Nelsen Middle School has over 1,100 kids. Dimmitt Middle School has over 1,000 kids. There’s a lot of teen spirit going on in those buildings.”

Matheson said middle schools in the district should ideally support between 800 and 900 students. Adding a middle school would benefit student ratios in each of the four schools if the bond measure passes, he said.

The Renton Academy facility would be torn down and a new building would be built in its place. The facility could be a traditional middle school or a magnet school to focus on a specialized curriculum, such a math or science.

“We already have the students to populate that school,” Matheson said. “We’re not opening the doors to students from outside the district or trying to fill that thing with new students … we just need a better space than what we currently have.”

There are 13 elementary schools that feed into three middle schools in the district.

Efforts to rework school boundaries or create architectural designs must wait until it is determined whether the bond passes or not, Matheson said.

“That’s the kind of work you’d have to put in once you know you have the funding,” he said. “It would be a moot point for us to do months and months of planning for a school that we’re not going to get funding for.”

The Renton Academy is the only property the district owns that is large enough to house a middle school, and other properties would be too expensive to buy and develop, Matheson said.

The building improvement bond would also fund a major renovation for Lindbergh High School’s pool. The bond includes funding for other school building improvements throughout the district, such as roof replacements; electrical and plumbing improvements; safety and security upgrades; and energy conservation measures.

The district will also seek a replacement maintenance and operations levy, which provides 30 cents of every dollar spent in the district, and a replacement technology levy, which funds technology-based education, buys equipment and covers nearly $1 million worth of software licensing fees the district must pay each year.

The bond must pass by a supermajority vote, or 60 percent approval, while the two levies must pass with a simple majority vote, or by more than 50 percent.

“One could say it’s going to be instrumental in keeping us moving forward,” said school board member Pam Teal, who represents the Newcastle area.

Residents were able to ask questions about the measures at a school district presentation Nov. 8.

Estimates provided by the school district state the three measures would cost the average homeowner an additional 69 cents per $1,000 of assessed value on their property taxes, bringing the total rate collected to $5.40 per $1,000.

Homeowners with a home valued at $252,000 would pay $1,361, according to the district.

“Middle school … is probably one of the most important things that we can invest in,” said former school board member and State Rep. Marcie Maxwell. “I hope that most people in this community are very interested in ensuring our kids have a great place to learn and that our teachers have a great place to teach.”

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One Response to “$97 million bond calls for middle school”

  1. Ted on February 1st, 2012 5:00 pm

    It seems the first two propositions are necessary to continuation of current professional standards in the school district. But No. 3 calls for new construction, based on the premise that it will IMPROVE the quality of education for middle school students in Renton.

    Sorry, but I remain unconvinced. I am skeptical of the claims made, and do not feel the schoolboard has made any real attempt to sell the community on the proposed construction. I am not even going to mention the “hard economic times” we are enduring right now, but simply wish to point out that before Renton spends $100M on another school, at a time when student population is actually declining, we need to be shown the expenditure is justified, that all other options have been exhausted, and that this is the best possible use of the money.

    One of my favorite people, Sen. (D-IL) Everett Dirksen, once said, “A billion here, and billion there, pretty soon you’re talking about real money.” Well, $100 million IS real money, for a community the size of Renton. Each of us should expect – demand – a clear explanation before paying for what may turn out to be an extravagance.

    And let me defend the $100M where only $97M has been proposed. Has any government project ever kept to its budget?

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