Kent School District Superintendent Israel Vela. COURTESY PHOTO, Kent School District

Voters defeat Kent school bond measure; next steps to be determined

No plans announced yet as just 48% vote for $495 million proposal with 60% approval needed

Voters in the Kent School District firmly defeated Proposition No. 1, a $495 million bond proposal to upgrade schools.

The measure received 52.02% (13,879) no votes and 47.98% (12,801) yes votes, according to results released April 28 by King County Elections during an updated count three days after the April 25 special election. A bond measure needs a 60% majority to pass.

“We will look at all options and provide information in the coming weeks on our next steps in this process,” Superintendent Israel Vela said during his April 26 report at the Kent School Board meeting about the bond measure.

Vela thanked voters for voting. He also recognized the board for approving the measure and the bond planning task force that recommended the many projects on the measure. He thanked the volunteer group that campaigned to pass the bond.

The district planned to use the funds for security improvements, including upgrades to access control, communication systems, alarm systems, security camera replacements, ADA improvements, reader boards and increased space for counseling services at middle schools.

The district also wanted to use bond proceeds to modernize elementary schools to accommodate pre-K education, and to repair, remodel, and upgrade school and administrative buildings districtwide, including improvements to HVAC, technology, boilers, roofs and interior and exterior paint. In addition, the district planned to upgrade all parking lot lights, improve outdoor facilities at all school sites, including inclusive playgrounds at elementary schools, new field buildings, upgrades to bleachers and synthetic fields at secondary sites.

District staff and the Kent School Board will need to decide when to bring the bond proposal back and how much to ask for. The current proposal included no new schools but rather upgrades throughout the district.

When district staff proposed the bond, they had hoped the approval of bonds in the Highline School District and Renton School District in November 2022 would mean a similar outcome for Kent.

When Kent sought a $252 million bond in 2016, it failed in April 2016 by 218 votes (59%) to get the 60% majority. The school board brought back the same measure in November 2016 and it received 67% approval.

The district expects tax rates to decrease in 2023 as property values increase. If voters approved the bond, the district anticipated the total tax rate for all levies (operating, capital/technology and bonds) will decrease approximately $0.29 per $1,000 of assessed value from $3.81 in 2022 to $3.52 in 2023 and 2024, the first year of collection on the bonds.

A rate of $3.52 would cost the owner of a $465,000 house in Kent about $1,636 per year for the district’s bond, capital/technology and operating levies.

Distrust in district, board?

A woman spoke during the public comment period at the April 26 board meeting that the bond failure could have to do with the public’s lack of trust in district leaders.

“I’m just here because i’m concerned about the direction our district is going in and that this board is going in,” Megan Carter said. “I think the ability of the public to trust the board and trust that you will follow through with what you say is so critical. I think we saw it last night (April 25) sadly when the bond failed that the public doesn’t necessarily trust the board as a whole and doesn’t trust the district.”

Carter said part of that distrust was due to how the board handled the insensitive comment by board president Tim Clark that led to his resignation in March as president. Clark remains on the board. She said the board promised collective action, but no action happened.

“I want to beg you guys to be transparent and honest with the public and follow through when you say you are going to do something and make it clear what you say,” Carter said.

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