05 April 2014

Politics and the true cost of our Lake Washington School District bond.

The Lake Washington School District is advertising a new bond will cost tax payers 25 cents more (per $1K of home value) annually more than what we are paying today. There is an energetic "no" group saying the district is lying and the real cost is much more. Who is right? Well, both of them, of course. However, the money debate should be secondary to the quality of education being provided when deciding whether to fund a school district.

Let's start with the debate. What the district writes is true. It will cost 25 cents more for the first year. They have done this by re-assessing the value of all property and lumping all previous loans in one which ultimately saves tax payers money. When the bond is included we will be paying 25 cents more than we expected. Makes sense.

Toby Nixon on the Kirkland City Council did some Google searches on how to calculate a bond and figured out the "true cost". His math said they are robbing tax payers of 90 cents. The "no" crew took his numbers as gospel and shouted about our education system fleecing the loving taxpayers from the Rainier mountain top. Now, while it is true that the bond, on its own, costs more than 25 cents, the school district is not hiding this and already advertised the amount. It is 61 cents. So, while the quarter advertisement might feel disingenuous, the truth is that the district is not hiding anything. (Oh, and that 90 cent number is inaccurate, Toby, since it is based on 2011 property values.)

These numbers are but a small part of the big picture. Compared to our property taxes, the average Lake Washington School District land owner is paying five times as much to the federal government, even if we are financing this bond. Unlike the IRS bucks, your property taxes go entirely into your community. Your dollars fund the future genius of our cities, including the next Toby Nixon on our city council. They create an environment that has supported companies like Microsoft and Google who thrive thanks to our sons and daughters. This is how our community pays it forward, much like the property tax owners who paid for my education.

A convincing argument could easily be made that every penny we give to the district comes back to property owners through increased property value. While our entire country lost most of their home value during the Great Recession, our homes in Redmond and Kirkland have gained back nearly everything we lost. That is due, in no small part, to our outstanding district. Families are moving to Redmond and Kirkland to put their children in these new buildings.

Oh, but the anti-bond crowd does not like the fact that our district is building new schools to house all of the new children. "Our families are living in much older houses so why are we tearing down schools that are 40 years old?" I can understand someone not appreciating a school district policy based on experts determining that they can break even, over the 30 year run of a school, by creating a whole new building through energy savings while also providing a state of the art facility. Unlike our homes, a school district spends enormous money on power and keeping up with technology and education standards is expensive which often negates any financial benefit to remodeling.

Why not increase the class size to 50 students? Because there are state regulations that will not allow that. Why did the district say it was building room for all these students before and now we are out of room? Because the location where students are living has changed and, frankly, the birth rate is up. Why build schools when there is capacity at other schools? Because shipping elementary students on an hour bus ride to a school with capacity would have a very negative impact on their education. Remember - this is about giving quality education to children, right?

No question, tax payers should and do have a voice in district policy. We should be concerned that they are spending our money wisely. When we question how they are approaching a problem, the school board should, and does, use experts in that given issue to determine the best course of action. That is how existing policies were made. If you question them, then attend a school board meeting and let them know. I have. Jackie Pendergrass and her crew will listen and act on your words. That does not mean they will agree but your words will impact their choices.

The kicker of this whole discussion is that we have allowed the "no" crowd to judge our school district by the cost of educating our kids rather than the quality education they are providing. That is a politically smart move on the part of the opposition because if the debate is about what is best for our students then this bond would have already been approved. Twice.

The mission of the Lake Washington School District is to make our kids future ready for the working world and to create the best schools in the nation. They are helping develop the smartest kids in our state and has the test scores and the extremely low high school drop out rate to prove it. Our students, schools and district are constantly receiving awards and being recognized nationally for their work. We should be celebrating the success of our district and putting some energy into thanking our teachers, custodians, counselors, board members and administrative employees. (Thank you!)

When we clear away the political nonsense, what we find is that the money is irrelevant. Property owners will get their investment back in increased property value and better employment opportunities in our area. There are valid reasons for every concern that has been voiced and a venue for working with the district to improve the direction. The only question remaining is whether the property owners in our community are willing to help the future leaders of our community.

I am. I hope they are, too.