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The Ellensburg School District might wait another year to pursue an elementary school bond to address overcrowding because of an unpredictable bond market.

District officials had thought about putting a measure to voters in 2020, but might wait another year.

The Ellensburg School Board had voted to allow the district to refinance a 2007 Ellensburg High School bond, leading to an estimated $1.2 million in savings for taxpayers. A shift in the financial market has led savings to drop to around $900,000, said Farley Walker, the district’s business manager.

The drop in savings means the district does not have the money to put down an interest payment that would have allowed it to go out for a bond a year earlier than anticipated without raising taxes in the community.

The 2007 bond, which is in the refinancing process and is posed to sell in March, will be completely paid off in 2021. That year, according to the district’s 40-year plan, voters would have been asked to vote on a $27.8 million bond that would have funded a new elementary school and a developmental preschool. An earlier bond would give the district a head start toward solving the problem of overcrowding.

Waiting until the high school bond is paid off allows the district to avoid an increase in taxes.

In 2015, the overall district tax rate was $4.58 per $1,000 of assessed property value, and grew to $5.37 in 2016. Rates will reach their highest this year at $5.78 because of the roll out of the technology levy. The rates will drop to $5.36 in 2018 and will continue at that level until they drop to $4.95 in 2036, assuming an elementary school bond is approved in 2021.

Quick fixes

Area elementary schools have seen an increase in students, a trend that is new to the district that has a budget set for 3,150 students this year. Elementary schools are hovering at about 500 students each.

Two administrators were added to the district to help with the increased number of students at all three elementary schools. Mount Stuart has added a roving teacher that has no classroom, but moves between first and second grades to provide assistance. A room that previously housed a computer lab was converted into a classroom.

Valley View also has added staff, with four new teachers from grades K-3, and has converted a small space into a classroom.

At Lincoln, a multi-age program has led to a split third and fourth grade class. Office space was also converted to house a literacy specialist. Specialist time, such as library or music class, also is booked up.

School facilities are feeling the squeeze as well, with cafeteria and gym space at capacity. After another portable is moved from Morgan Middle School to Mount Stuart this year, its cafeteria will no longer have enough room for more students.

Discussion

At an Ellensburg School District Community Capital Planning Committee meeting Wednesday, community members, staff and administrators met at Hal Holmes to discuss different approaches toward solving the problem of overcrowding and funding a new elementary school.

Security around portables was a discussion point raised by community member Dorothy Casura, who said she saw the need for an elementary school but that safety is a concern that needs to be addressed.

Carla Ketchum, fourth-grade teacher at Mount Stuart, agreed that portables pose a safety issue at her school, especially for younger students having to walk between the portables and the main building.

“Just adding portables isn’t going to cut it,” she said about rising enrollment.

Community member Jennifer Hoyt said that a new elementary school would be a way to stop “putting Band-Aids” on issues and eliminate some portables while providing more space for special education programs. She said she didn’t know how the costs would line up, however.

It would be possible to build an elementary school, Ellensburg School Board member Jonathan Leonard said, but it would have to be in 2021.

“And the question is what we’re going to do in the meantime to meet the need,” he said.

A change in public attitude, community member Ken Briggs said, is what’s needed.

“We can change the attitudes of the community and move this project up because the reality is the data is in, we need a new elementary school now, not in 2021, we need it now,” he said. “And we got to get rolling on this.”

Briggs said the fear of the community’s perception to increased tax rates is “paralyzing us.”

Feedback to Briggs was positive, with some echoing the surprise they felt when looking at enrollment trends, and others suggesting presenting the idea to the community.

“I think this is a whole different ball game, and I think we can do it,” Joan Wood said.

The CPCC will meet again on Jan. 18.

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