Enrollments already are at uncomfortably high levels, according to principals, especially in the elementary schools. Yet the district has been unable to convince enough voters to increase their taxes to allow new schools to be built. Three times in the last four years, including twice last year, bond issues have failed, despite winning majority votes. (Washington's constitution requires a 60 percent supermajority for school bond issues and levies.)
At a Saturday board retreat, board member Cindy McMullen said that eventually the district will have to try another bond issue, but for now the board should pull back and listen to the community.
Superintendent Mike Pearson said administrators are researching non-construction options, from changing school boundaries to double shifting at middle schools. That would allow the district to turn one of its middle schools into an elementary school. Board member Tom Dingus suggested the district explore a full-year calendar, with schools staggering their schedules.
At the retreat, board members also considered results from an online survey that asked why people didn't vote for a $75 million bond issue last November. Many of the 247 respondents "said the price tag was too high and that the district should make do with what it has," said CV spokeswoman Melanie Rose.
She said she "sensed the discontent started after the new high schools opened [Central Valley and University in 2002]. People thought they were too fancy. One man said he had toured the new high schools and hasn't voted yes for schools since."
Rose said the survey also showed many bond supporters, including school employees, are frustrated.
"We're a transition community right now and we have some demographic conflicts," McMullen added. "I've heard from everyone, from transplants who came because it's great here to natives who grew up here. The natives say these high schools are wanted by people from California."
LOWERING THE BOND BAR
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & W & lt;/span & ashington school advocates hope the political climate is right for state lawmakers to correct what they consider to be a 63-year-old mistake.
In 1944, Washington voters changed the state constitution to require that school levies and bond issues be approved with at least 60 percent support, rather than by simple majorities (50 percent plus one vote). At the time, property tax owners worried that, during difficult economic times, it was too easy for governments to raise taxes.
The constitutional amendment also included a 40 percent validation requirement tied to the turnout in the last general election. If 1,000 voters in the district had cast ballots the previous November, at least 400 votes would be required to validate the subsequent school election.
Fast forward to 2007.
"It doesn't make sense that it's harder to raise money to fund the state's most important priority than it is to find money for stadiums, jails and college campuses," says Spokane School Superintendent Brian Benzel.
School advocates, from administrators to teachers, are lobbying for the change. The House and Senate would each have to approve a constitutional amendment by a two-thirds margin and then forward it to the people, who would have to approve it by a majority vote.
Democratic leaders are looking for a compromise that will appeal to minority Republicans. Last year, they introduced a proposal that would have applied the "simple majority" to school levies, but not to bond issues.
"There's some logic to it," House Speaker Frank Chopp (D-Seattle) told reporters at a recent Associated Press legislative forum. "Capital bonds you pay for over a period of 25 or 30 years. Levies only last from two to four
The House approved the proposal, 74-23. The Senate, though, didn't vote on it, presumably because the Democratic leadership couldn't muster a two-thirds majority.
"Senate Republicans are all over the board on this," said Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt (R-Walla Walla) at the forum.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown (D-Spokane) isn't yet willing to predict whether any of three "simple majority" measures already filed will get through this year. But, she says, "I think you will see a robust debate."
-- DOUG NADVORNICK