Bond would fund $40 million in capital improvements

Published on Thu, Feb 7, 2008 by Jack Kintner

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Bond would fund $40 million in capital improvements

By Jack Kintner

Ballots for voters to decide the fate of the Blaine school district’s proposed four year maintenance and operations levy and a $40 million capital projects bond will be mailed out by the Whatcom County Auditor’s office on Wednesday, February 20.

“The levy is a continuation of the current four-year maintenance and operations levy approved in February of 2004 that will expire this year,” said Blaine school district superintendent Ron Spanjer, “and not a new tax.” The levy pays for a little over 22 percent of the district budget, and the state picks up 69 percent. The rest is funded by grants and program fees.

The capital projects bond, which will be on the same ballot, is the product of a two-year study by a long range facility planning committee comprised of district staff and community members. It’s by far the largest such proposal ever made to district voters.

Three-quarters of the bond is earmarked for a comprehensive expansion and remodeling of the high school. “The Blaine high school campus includes some of the most outdated facilities in the district and needs significant upgrades in order to remain responsive to future program needs,” said Spanjer.

The bond issue is in part a response to Blaine’s steadily increasing student enrollment. “The financing and subsequent repayment schedule for capital projects bond serves to assure that future home owners assume a share of the resulting tax burden and that the repayment obligation does not rest exclusively with existing home owners,” Spanjer said.

A little over $20 million for a new elementary school to be located in Birch Bay was removed from the bond request last fall by the long range planning committee when projected enrollment flattened. There is $1.5 million in the request for land acquisition.

Specific items in the bond request also include enclosure of the covered play area at Blaine primary, expanded cafeteria space at Blaine elementary, expansion of special education space and improvements to the middle school gym, acquisition of property for an upgraded bus parking and maintenance site, expanded parking and additional office space at the district office and improvements to Pipeline athletic fields and the district’s football stadium.

The high school is 35 years old and is overcrowded, according to the long-range study committee who support the bond request. The band, choir, T.V. studio, art room, construction classroom, technology education classroom and one language arts classroom are located outside the high school. Two classrooms in the middle school are being used by the high school, but the space is needed as the middle school is also growing.

Other deficiencies cited by the committee include the middle school cafeteria, designed for 350 students, that currently serves 750 middle and high school students daily. Special education life skills, a high school level class, is housed in the old locker rooms of the middle school gym. Science laboratory space is currently less than half of what is needed.
Administrative and work areas are overcrowded because their square footage has not increased from the days when Blaine high school had 300 fewer students.

As far as the cost for each household, the district furnished a table that shows Blaine with the lowest existing capital projects tax rates of the seven Whatcom County school districts at .83 per $1,000 of assessed value. Highest is Nooksack Valley at 2.68 per $1,000. Passing the bond issue raises Blaine’s rate by an estimated fifty cents per $1,000 evaluation. The resulting new tax on a $300,000 home would be about $150 per year.

Blaine at $1.09 per $1,000 of assessed valuation also has the lowest levy rate in the county, well below the next higher district, Bellingham, whose levy rate is almost $2 per thousand. Highest is Nooksack with a levy tax rate of $3.48 per $1,000 assessed valuation.

Spanjer said that one reason tax rates are lower is because the BP Cherry Point refinery represents about a quarter of the tax base within the district.

The amount raised by the levy ranges from $4,650,000 in 2009 to $5,380,000 in 2012 and helps provide programs such as athletics, music, drama and other student activities, pays part of the cost of busing students, provides for almost all of the regular building maintenance and pays for the bulk of teacher training, a significant percentage of special education services and accounts for un-funded mandates, or things the district is required to do but not funded to provide.

Both measures must pass by a so-called supermajority, at least a 60 percent “yes” vote, to succeed. For the election to be valid at least 40 percent of the number voting in the last general election must vote on these issues. For more information go to the district’s website at www.blaine.wednet.edu.