Kent School District leaders hope recent approval by voters of new bond measures in the Renton and Highline districts to build new schools will carry over to Kent’s proposed $495 million bond on the April 25, 2023 special elections ballot.
However, unlike the bonds in those two districts approved by voters in November 2022, Kent’s measure doesn’t include building any new schools.
“This bond is an opportunity to bring our schools up to the highest standards,” Wade Barringer, associate superintendent of strategic initiatives and operations for the Kent School District, said during a Dec. 14 bond presentation to the Kent School Board.
The 2016 bond measure approved by Kent voters expires at the end of the 2022-2023 school year. That bond included the new Covington Elementary School (completed in 2018) the new River Ridge Elementary School (2021) and the new Kent Laboratory Academy (2022).
“In future bonds we will need to replace schools,” said Barringer, who added cost estimates for a new elementary school is $75 million, a new middle school $125 million and a new high school $200 million. “By not building now schools now, we can get our schools up to speed. Then with the future bonds for new schools we won’t need to spend millions of dollars on other schools.”
Kent’s bond will go toward facility improvements, student health and safety, outdoor program improvements, districtwide program growth and technology.
Renton’s $676 million bond received 64.32% voter approval and Highline’s $518 million bond received 68.84% approval. Bonds require a 60% majority.
“I’m optimistic after voter approval in Highline and Renton,” Barringer said. “We want to ride that Puget Sound wave.”
Board members unanimously approved the bond proposal, but had a few comments about going for school upgrades vs. building new schools. A bond planning task force came up with the recommendations.
”We are asking the community for money but with no new school,” director Awale Farah said at the meeting. “They might wonder why should we approve it if they went so low and are not building new schools.”
Farah said that could be the message voters take if the district fails to communicate its emphasis on upgrading current schools.
“I know a lot of thought went into the $495 million mark and I understand considering the inflationary situation,” Farah said about the plan to keep the measure’s cost lower. “But Renton and Highline didn’t consider that with their bonds passing. With the size of our district maybe we push it a little bit. As a parent of Kent students, I wondered why the schools are so old and not being rebuilt.
“By having an environment where you worry about wearing a jacket in winter or less clothing in summer, it’s embarrassing with the type of district we have.”
Barringer replied that he understood voters connect a bond with new schools and that about 60% of Kent schools are more than 30 years old.
“But we would spend a good chunk of money on a school, and if we spend most of our money on two or three new schools, there’s no money left to rebuild other schools,” Barringer said.
Director Joe Bento, a Renton High School teacher, said it will take a different marketing plan in Kent compared to Renton and Highline.
“In understanding the difference with our bond in Kent and Highline and Renton, Renton is building a new (Renton) High School (at a different site) and Highline is rebuilding two high schools Evergreen and Tyee and a couple of others (Pacific Middle School),” Bento said. “It was big marketing for them because the schools were in high need of rebuild.”
Director Leslie Hamada admitted the passage of bonds in Highline and Renton surprised her.
“I’m amazed that Highline and Renton passed their bonds,” Hamada said. “I thought that ain’t going to fly, so it’s encouraging that happened.”
Hamada said she agreed with the task force’s plan to upgrade current schools.
“Every school will have some kind of marketing tool of what to do at that school,” Hamada said.
When Kent sought a $252 million bond in 2016, it failed in April 2016 by 218 votes (59%) to get the 60% majority. The district brought back the same measure in November 2016 and it received 67% approval.
“It may appear to be a heavy lift, but we are going to do all we can to educate everyone who wants to hear from us,” Barringer said about the April 2023 measure.
The district plans to have seven roadshow listening sessions for the community between Jan. 26 and April 20. Times and locations are still to come but the meetings are expected to be at each of the seven middle schools.
There also will be a website going up the first part of January about the bond measure that will include a list of each project proposed at each school, Barringer said.
Cost of the bond
The district’s 2022 property tax rate of $3.81 per $1,000 assessed value is expected to go down, Barringer said. The exact rate is to be determined but is estimated by district staff to decrease by 23 cents in 2023 to $3.58 per $1,000 assessed value.
A rate of $3.58 would cost the owner of a $465,000 house in Kent about $1,664 per year for the district’s bond and technology and operating levies.
Where the money will go
$71.5 million for roof replacements at seven schools; boiler replacements at seven schools; and additional flooring replacements and interiors.
$40.8 million for flooring replacement at four schools; improvements to ADA compliance; flooding and drainage mitigation; and exterior building improvements.
$20 million for HVAC device replacements; site improvements and fence repairs at multiple schools; asbestos abatement; and parking lot improvements at eight sites.
Student health and safety
$118.5 million for reader boards at 23 schools; upgrade access control (locks and hardware); replace cameras at 29 schools; replace alarm systems at all facilities; improve radio communication; add security vestibules at 10 schools; improved ADA compliant door hardware; and upgrade air quality with HVAC replacements.
$1.8 million for added space to support counseling needs for middle schools; and improve camera blind spots.
Outdoor program improvements
$54 million for synthetic turf fields and track improvements at six schools; locker room renovations at Kentridge High School.
$46.1 million for improve ADA compliance at high school and middle school fields; fully inclusive playgrounds; baseball and softball fields at Kentridge, Kentlake and Kentwood; field replacements to support districtwide high school programs; and improved athletic storage.
Districtwide program growth
$58.7 million for districtwide furniture replacement.
$6.8 million for new warehouse and districtwide curriculum, instrument and science storage.
$5 million for early learning space at all elementary schools; and operations and facilities office.
$19.7 million for update UPS (uninterruptible power supply) and associated systems; replace emergency intercoms; facility visitor management.
Editor’s note: This story was updated Jan. 3 with the correct percentages of approval for the Renton and Highline school district bonds.
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