Student safety at center of concerns
The main purpose of the bond issue is to address the increasing number of students and safety related issues at SHS, McKay acknowledged.
District officials reported Sunnyside High School is over capacity by about 220 students all in a campus meant for 1,850 students.
Those calculations are based on the square footage of the school’s building as determined by OSPI (Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction).
The high school enrollment is expected to increase by more than 400 in the next few years.
Presently, the district’s fifth-grade class has the largest number of students scheduled to move up to the high school, McKay said.
When there are more students on a campus than it was designed for, there is a potential for safety and security issues.
It’s not about the security systems, equipment or personnel. The high school already has those resources, explained McKay.
Instead, the safety-related issues arise when more people are placed in an area than it’s designed to hold.
SUNNYSIDE “The priority is classroom space, cafeteria space and learning space.” – Sunnyside Superintendent Kevin McKay
As ballots arrived in the mail for many Sunnyside registered voters, the final public outreach presentation about the school district’s $16 million proposed bond issue took place at the high school last Thursday evening, before the official election day — Feb. 12.
At issue is the need for a bond that impacts not only the current 2,071 high school student enrollment but future growth. School officials also stressed safety in the buildings and on the sports fields at last Thursday’s meeting.
“I feel it’s extremely important to give every opportunity to our community to get their questions answered and to learn about the bond and the need, and then to make some decisions when it comes to the election process,” Sunnyside School District Superintendent Kevin McKay said.
The informal and low key, question and answer presentation began with learning about why the school district needs to run a bond issue.
The $16 million bond, with $6.5 in state match, along with $2 million from the School District, will be used to fund the $24.5 million capital improvement project that includes two distinct phases of construction.
The first phase is a two-story building featuring classrooms, lab and multi-use learning spaces, a greenhouse, a second commons with a designated outdoor space and cafeteria.
There will be learning space for fine arts, career and technical education and extracurricular activities, as well as space for community-based youth and adult programs.
The two projects in the first phase are the ones that qualify for state assistance, McKay said.
If the bond is approved, construction on Phase 1 could begin this fall, he said.
The second phase consists of new athletic stadium complex with a track around the field and grandstands to seat an additional 3,700 people. Additional parking, walkways, courtyards and service roads are also included. Another parking lot area to service the softball fields would be added.
Safety and security upgrades would also be made. The goal would be able to connect all the properties into one big campus.
“That in itself is a combination of three projects. As you can imagine, this is not state funded. The state is not going to chip in for a stadium or a parking lot,” McKay explained. “So, that is where a portion of that is locally funded.”
While the state doesn’t fund the construction of school buildings, they can be of assistance to school districts that pass a bond issue. School districts have to raise the funds in order to build schools, he added.
“Bond issues are used in order to finance the school construction funds that are needed,” McKay described.
Getting out the voters
Bond issues can only be voted on by the people who reside within the geographic boundaries of the school district, since they will pay for this bond issue, and it’s all based on property tax, McKay explained.
In April of 2018, the district put out a bond issue for voter approval that didn’t receive the 60 percent super majority vote, which is required by law. The last election received 55.4 percent support, 200 votes shy of super majority approval.
The school board, McKay and a committee of community members felt that number was close but not quite good enough. In their eyes, it was an indication that there was a general amount of support for the bond issue.
Not many people participated in the 2018 bond election, signaling an extremely low voter turnout.
“Simple data analysis is that if 200 people more had participated in the election and voted in approval, the bond issue would have passed,” McKay noted.
“In a community that’s got way over 6,000 registered voters, 200 is a pretty small number.”
By early fall and following the district’s technical data evaluation process, McKay said officials believed it was worth revisiting and putting it back out there for voter approval.
Furthermore, they recognized the need hadn’t gone away. In fact, it may have gathered more attention with the incoming student enrollment increase.
What the bond actually buys
SHS has six portable classrooms and three school buildings that are located on the eastern part of the campus. The new construction plan includes removing them and building a solid brick building with all the amenities.
Traffic and congestion problems would be addressed by adding additional parking areas on campus, creating an overall safer environment.
Field safety is a concern. A few years ago, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA), the governing body of athletics and league officials told the school’s former athletic director Bill Daley that Clem Senn Athletic Field was unfit to host a high school playoff football game.
“It was kind of, in a way, embarrassing to hear that be said,” recalled McKay.
“Because it meant that our students should have had the right to host it by their success, but they weren’t going to get that opportunity.
“Our main field is one that gets used more than any other space, probably in the entire district for outside related activities,” he said.
The field doesn’t have the capacity to support large high school football sporting and community events, the district administrator said.
“We have a very large and comprehensive high school with a philosophy that we want to provide kids with unlimited opportunities, whatever their interests are. When you do that, you’re always looking for that next big thing to get kids engaged,” voiced McKay.
“For certain kids, it’s the academic piece. They want academics. They want as much academics as they can get. And they want to excel at the highest level of academics… but that’s not all kids.”
Each year Sunnyside High School has added programs to try and meet the needs of their students. As a result, the school has simply run out of space, according to McKay.
“A perfect example of that is currently in first lunch, which is for our freshmen and sophomore students. And, if you combine those two groups together, there’s over 1,000 of them,” McKay described. “They are eating lunch together at the same time in a cafeteria that was not designed to serve 1,000 students at a time.”
How the figures work
McKay expanded upon the financial part of reducing the taxpayer portion of the project by $2 million.
The School District would use money from its capital project fund. That fund is where dollars have been deposited from previous construction projects. There is $1.3 million remaining in the account, which will be used regardless if the bond passes or fails.
Should the bond fail, the $1.3 million will be used to make parking improvements and to purchase additional portables. The additional $700,000 will come from the district’s reserve account and be used in tandem with their capital project funds, bringing the total to $2 million.
“That’s why there’s a difference, and that’s why the budget is the same, but the amount we’re looking at taxpayers to pay is less and does have tax implications,” McKay said.
“The $16 million bond has a tax rate of .73 per $1,000 of assessed value evaluation.”
The April 2018 bond measure was for .88, which has now been reduced to .73 resulting in a .15 property tax savings, McKay explained.
Another big change in this year’s bond measure is the State of Washington enacted a law last year that School Districts could only tax their patrons for their levy at a $1.50.
“Our levy rate was $1.89. Our levy rate now is $1.50. So, that .39 is going to be a savings to the taxpayer,” McKay announced. “Now, those two (.73 tax rate and $1.50 levy) don’t connect, other than the total tax bill that the taxpayer pays. They don’t work together. They’re two separate taxes. But for people who look at their total taxes, that’s where you’re going to see the savings.”
When adding up everything, the increase for the bond, the savings from the levy and when comparing taxes from 2018 to this year, it will be a .34 increase, said McKay. “The .34 to be able to generate $16 million plus the $6.5 million, so it’s not really just $16 million. It’s really $22.5 million because you don’t get the state assistance unless you pass the bond.”
There are many groups of people in the community, who are passionate and supportive about academics and athletics, McKay expressed.
“By the School District not listening to that, we’re probably not going to get the support from all the groups together, in order to get what is needed of the 60 percent,” he said.
“I will tell you, are there priorities, yes! The priority is classroom space, cafeteria space and learning space. We know that, and it’s an easy, common sense approach. But we also know that the sports complex and stadium, in the eyes of many of our community members and students, is extremely important to them, and should be part of this project.”