School board weighs its options

Renton School Board members reviewed three possible options regarding funding.

The Renton School Board is considering rerunning the $249.6 million bond that failed in the February election due to voter turnout. Or it might instead run a $150 million levy, leaving a current 2016 levy in place.

The board began the first of what will be multiple conversations over what to do with the bond measure, at a special meeting March 27.

Board members looked at three possible scenarios during the study session: rerunning the nearly $250 million bond measure, running a $150 million levy or not running anything. Depending on what the board decides, a bond or levy could appear on the ballot as early as November 2019 or February 2020.

Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations Susan Smith Leland also showed the board a $56 million levy option, but said the district wouldn’t likely run that since it wouldn’t even pay for a new elementary school, let alone other remodels and construction needed.

The $150 million levy option would increase the tax rate for the district, from $3.50 tax rate in 2019 to projected $3.84 in 2020.

Levies are collected over a short period of time so it costs more per year than a bond, school district spokesperson Randy Matheson explained.

While this helps a bond appeal to taxpayers, Matheson said that levies allow for quicker collection and therefore faster construction, as it did with Sartori Elementary School.

This could be a reason for the school board to look at a $150 million levy: the district is in dire need of a new elementary school to handle the Highlands area.

“The board may decide to move forward with the levy in order to get that school built quicker,” Matheson said.

The school district is already purchasing land in preparation for the new school, the Renton Reporter previously reported.

Since the bond didn’t pass, the 2016 Capital Facilities levy continues to collect and provide revenue for previously voter-approved projects until 2022, as well as technology funding.

The district anticipates having a more detailed analysis of voting patterns and the recent election to the board in April, especially with the possibility of an unprecedented November general election ballot.

February 2020 appeals to the district as voters can focus on their measures instead of the national, state, and local measures that would appear first on a November ballot. School districts are placed at the back or bottom of full ballots and they’ve seen that hurt voting in the past, Matheson said.

“Some voters just don’t get to us and we lose out because of that,” he said.

Missing the validation mark:

The district reports this was the highest turnout received for a school ballot for the last 25 years, and it was impressive to receive over 60 percent approval.

Matheson told the school board Wednesday that, considering this was the first time out for the bond, it was an impressive number, especially with multiple school measures on the ballot.

Still, the district received less than the required 18,578 voter turnout.

In the past, most bond measures initially fail in Renton schools, but not due to the validation requirement.

Matheson said that they’ve been told Renton is the only school district in the state to manage to meet 60 percent approval and yet miss the validation mark in at least 30 years.

It is the only one in King County in at least ten years, according to election’s office staff.

According to King County elections office, it’s also a rare occurrence in recent years to miss that validation mark, even with a below-60-percent approval.

Since 2004, election office staff only found one instance of a school district measure missing the validation mark — from Auburn in 2009. But that measure didn’t reach a 60 percent approval as Renton’s did.

Why was the turnout requirement the highest in school district’s recent history?

King County Election office was notified Washington state had the seventh highest voter turnout in the November 2018 general election. King County also had a record turnout for a midterm at 76 percent voter turnout.

That matters because the bond validation requirement for a supermajority vote is 40 percent turnout of the previous general election.

Matheson said he thinks what pushed that midterm turnout was the number of contested statewide initiatives on the ballot.

“Almost any kind of cause you would have as a voter, there was something on the ballot that got you to mail it in,” Matheson said.

Compared to the rest of King County, Renton had an average turnout in November, based off validation requirements available on the elections website.

Of the 20 school districts in King County, Renton has the eighth highest validation requirement to meet for 2019.

The school district’s validation requirement of 18,578 was the 20th highest in King County’s 139 election districts, per election office data.

The average validation requirement, due to large outliers such as the city of Seattle, was around the district’s requirement at 18,840.

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