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Democratic Lawmaker Says He'd Like To Lower Threshold For School Bond Measures To Pass

Curtis Cronn
Everett High School was slated for a modernization project with a bond measure the school district had proposed.

Although results in the Feb. 13 special election have not yet been certified, several school districts in the Puget Sound region appear to have failed to pass school construction bond measures. Those districts include Everett, Arlington, Lake Washington and Bethel.

One Democratic state lawmaker said the threshold for school bond measures to pass is too high, making it hard for districts to address overcrowding and build new schools.

In 2007, voters in Washington state approved a constitutional amendment that allows school levies to pass with a simple majority, but school construction bond measures still need 60 percent to pass and a voter turnout of at least 40 percent of the total that cast ballots in the last general election. A bond measure increases the local property tax for a longer time period than a levy.

Democratic Sen. Mark Mullet from Issaquah sponsored constitutional amendment legislation that would lower the threshold to 55 percent for bond measures to pass.

A constitutional amendment has to be approved by two-thirds in both the state House and Senate. Then a majority of voters have to approve it in the next general election.

“These schools are trying to build classrooms so we can lower class size,” Mullet said. “This bill I think is a great way to make it easier for them to provide extra classroom space so everyone can have fewer kids in their kid’s classroom at school.”

But in this short legislative session, his bill appears unlikely to pass. Mullet said he sponsored the legislation now to get the conversation going for next year when the legislative session is longer, and he said he picked 55 percent as the threshold instead of 50 percent as a way to build bipartisan support.

Bethel School District in Pierce County was one of the districts that failed to pass a school construction bond measure, and likely still would not pass if the threshold were lowered to 55 percent. As of the most recent election tally, the bond measure had garnered just under 54 percent of votes. The district said it needed to sell bonds to pay for three new schools and expansion in others to relieve overcrowding. Voters rejected another bond measure two years ago.

Superintendent Tom Seigel said his district may have to have kids come to school in shifts.

“Or the other option is to simply increase the number of kids in the classrooms, and we know educationally that’s not desirable and we know parents don’t like that,” he said.

Seigel said he’s lobbied the legislature to put constitutional amendment language on the ballot so that voters can decide whether to change the threshold for bond measures to pass. Voters in the Bethel School District approved two levies in the Feb. 13 election – one for educational programs and operations and another for technology expenditures.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.