Wenatchee School Board Endorses Lowering Voter Approval For Bonds
The Wenatchee School Board is endorsing a move to lower the percentage of voter approval needed to pass school bond measures.
The board adopted the stance Tuesday night in response to a letter from Senator Brad Hawkins, who was asking if there was support for lowering the threshold from 60 percent to 55 percent.
Katherine Thomas was the only board member to oppose the move, saying the higher level is needed because bonds can strap taxpayers with a heavy tax debt.
"We are taxed to death, particularly here, and it really affects everyone, and it's painful," said Thomas.
Wenatchee was one of 10 school boards in Hawkins' legislative district to receive his letter asking for feedback on bond measures.
The other districts that were sent the correspondence are Eastmont, Cashmere, Lake Chelan, Manson, Cascade, Monroe, Riverview, Snoqualmie Valley and Sultan, all part of Hawkins' .12th Legislative District
Hawkins spoke on KPQ's legislative hotline last week, saying he voted against a 2019 bill that would've lowered bond approval to 50 percent, which is the same level currently required to pass school levies.
He noted school bonds can significantly alter property taxes in communities and warrant a higher threshold.
Tax levies typically last for a couple of years, and must be reapproved on a regular basis, whereas bonds can be tied to property taxes for up to 25 years..
Hawkins told KPQ that there’s interest in the legislature to take up the issue this year.
Any proposal would require making a change to the state constitution, which by itself would need 60% approval in both houses in the legislature and majority approval in a statewide public vote.
Both the Wenatchee and Eastmont school districts have had bond measures fail in past years, including a $185 million package last November in Eastmont, which received 51 percent approval.
Bonds are usually proposed for the funding of large capital projects, such as the construction of new school buildings.
The Wenatchee School Board voted 4-1 in favor of the 55 percent compromise.
Board member Julie Norton said called it a logical meet in the middle proposition, given the major need for building upgrades.
"Our facilities just need major improvements," said Norton. "The more time I spend at the high school, it's so apparent that they need so much work. And I don’t know how else to do it."
Hawkins is asking school boards to respond to his letter by March 10.