Saturday, February 8, 2014

Letter: LWSD Bonds Will Cost 3X What District States

By Susan Wilkins

The Lake Washington School District states that its $755,000,000 bond measure, Prop 3, will cost taxpayers 53 cents per thousand in assessed value. This statement is true for 2015-2018 when only a fraction of the bonds have been sold and the district is collecting only $18 million per year. As all bonds are sold over the next 6 years, the district will collect more and more each year so property taxes will increase substantially.  Read More >>

The principal ($755,000,000) and interest ($535,000,000) on the 2014 bonds are projected to cost $1.29 Billion (with a B) by the district. (The interest & payment info was obtained through a public records request to the district.) The Lake Washington School District will need to collect an average of $52 million each year from 2019 through 2041 when the bonds are retired. In order to collect $52 million/year, homeowners will be taxed $1.55/thousand – about 3 times the 53 cents the district says it will cost. Take note of how the school district carefully only states what it will cost from 2015 through 2018. Annual taxes from the bonds on a $500,000 house will eventually be $775, not $265.


Voters should also realize that we still owe $627 million (P&I) for bonds issued in 1998, 2006 and 2012 that won't be fully paid off until 2029.  These older bonds already cost taxpayers an average of $42 million per year, or about $625/year for a $500,000 house.  



There are 150 portables in use across the district: 91 at elementary schools, 43 at middle schools and 16 at high schools.  The bond measure will barely provide enough space to get our students out of portables.  And the district is expecting 4000 more students.  This bond measure provides too little space!



This year, overcrowding was so extreme in the elementary schools that the district used 91 portable.  (Some portables were used for music, art, counseling - but most were used as regular classrooms.) The bond measure will add only 3 new elementary schools to the entire district.  The new schools will be designed for 550 students (1650 total.)  Even if these new schools were to open tomorrow, there would still be students in portables. 


2013-2014 Elementary classroom & student counts

Total students: 13,090

Permanent capacity:      11,000


Overcrowding:  -2,090  (students in district's 90 portables or overfilled classrooms)


New schools:     +1,650  (three new schools @ 550 students/school)


Overcrowding:  -440   


ALL of our elementary schools are full or overcrowded - even after nearly 2000 sixth graders were moved to the middle schools.


When the state fund all-day kindergarten in 2017-18, the district will need space for another 400-500 ADK students across the district.


When families move into the 600 new houses in North Redmond or into the 1500 new apartment and condo units in downtown Redmond or into all the houses/condos in Kirkland and Sammamish, ALL of the district's elementary schools in the will be full and severely overcrowded. The overcrowding will be extreme and will last for years.  How is this good for children?  How many will never spend a day in a real classroom?  How many will have 35 students in their classrooms?  When will the district decided to double shift?


Voters should REJECT proposition 3 and tell the district to come back in 2015 with a bond measure that is less expensive and builds critically needed space for our elementary students.


Susan Wilkins said...

If you're not sure about the cost of the bond measure - keep reading:

Intuitively, take $755,000,000 and divide by 20 = $37,500,000. This is the amount of principal that needs to be paid back each year for 20 years at 0%.

The district website says that the Capital Projects Levy will collect $31,200,000 by assessing 91 cents per thousand.

If the district needs 91 cents/thousand in order to collect $31.2 million how can 53 cents/thousand collect $37.5 million?

The answer is that it can't. The 53 cents will collect enough to cover the initial bond payments in 2015-2018 when only a quarter of the bonds are sold. (It will collect $18 million.)

A public records request was made to the district to obtain the financial calculations for the principal and interest totals and bond repayment schedule. The district's bond advisor, D.A. Davidson, estimated that the interest on the bonds would be $535 million.

$755 million + $535 million = $1,290,000,000. Divide by 20 = $64,500,000 per year. This is how much we will have to pay back each year for the next 20 years to pay off the bonds.

The district states that in 2016 the EP&0 will collect $64,900,000 by assessing $1.88/thousand so intuitively the district would need to collect $1.88/thousand each year to pay for the bonds.

However, the bond payments will be spread over more than 20 years (since some bonds won't be sold until 2018-2020) so annual average collections for bonds - based on the district's bond information - will be about $52,000,000 or about $1.55/thousand (about 3 times the 53 cents the district states.)

In 2019, the bond collection will go to 89 cents/thousand.
In 2020, it will be $1.08/thousand
In 2021, it will be $1.20/thousand
In 2024, it will be $1.54/thousand ... etc.
These increases are designed to be incremental so that taxpayers aren't hit all at once. It's like the frog in the pot of boiling water. The increases are timed to coincide with the expiration of some of the older bonds from 1998-2012 so that the increases will be masked by the reductions from those bonds.

Also, the Washington State Constitution limits the amount of bonds that school districts can sell. When the $755,000,000 bonds are sold, the Lake Washington School District will be within $350 million of its maximum limit. Nobody has even discussed that this bond measure will take us very close to maxing-out the district's bonding capacity.

Anonymous said...

The basic argument here is that the problem of overcrowding is really bad, and quickly getting worse, and that the proposed solution is non-optimal, so we should do nothing until we figure out something better in a future year. While I agree that a better solution is theoretically possible, this is the only one that is available now. Waiting continues to punish our kids who do not get the option of delaying their education. As for next year, the author complains that the current proposal does not do enough, yet I doubt she would support a more comprehensive solution that costs significantly more. If we fail to pass this measure, next year we'll be looking at even more portables in our system. I'd rather have an imperfect solution, rather than letting this problem continue to ramp up.

Susan Wilkins said...

Oh my, how easy it is to assume that all I do is write about the overcrowding problem. In fact, since 2/2/2013 when the school district held its first Capital Bond & Levy Planning work session, I have attempted to be part of the planning and strategy process for the 2014 bond measure. Getting any information from the district was almost impossible. Even now, the district won't tell us where they plan to build the new Mystery Middle School although they want us to approve $80 million for site purchase and construction as part of the 2014 bond measure.

When we look at the district's "long-term, in-depth planning", at best it was shallow, but mostly it was non-existent. Their demographic data that would show neighborhood boundaries, current and future student population projections based on new housing vs. existing housing and details such as rentals vs. owner-occupied units was never provided. The school district's projections consisted of some wimpy, amateurish upward-trending bar charts that concluded that there would be 4000 more students. Wow. They didn't even have a list of new developments or housing units planned or under construction in each school boundary so they didn't know where the new students would be enrolling. Had they done this, they would have known that the district needs 7 or 8 new elementary schools, not 3.

Remember the district's "input sessions"? All they wanted to know was how much voters were willing to spend - not what we thought of their plans or how we thought they could be improved. I would have said, "You need a new elementary school in SE Redmond; you need another elementary school on the Sammamish Plateau; you need another elementary school in downtown Redmond!" and I would have backed up my statements with maps and student counts and future projections. With the internet, so much data is available about who lives in the houses, apartments and condos in the district- plus they already know the names, ages and addresses of all the students in the district - but they have never bothered to collect, analyze or incorporate the data into their planning process. If we reject the bond measure, the district could do an indepth analysis so that we could figure out how many new classrooms we really need and where they should be built.

If the bond measure is rejected, the school district can use RCW 28A.530.080 to issue non-voted bonds to build additions onto Rosa Parks, Redmond El or Redmond MS to immediately add space to these 3 schools. Or they could purchase office space along Willows Road or at Redmond Ridge and convert those buildings to Choice schools. Yes, there really are other options besides portables for dealing with overcrowding.

We really need a comprehensive plan for growth in the district. All along I have tried to participate in the planning process and have been stone-walled. The school district lost a full year between 2/2/2013 and today to competently plan for growth. To now argue that 2015 is a whole year away so we should pass the 2014 bond measure is disingenuous. If the district would actually allow constructive input, we could effectively plan for long-term growth.

Anonymous said...

"Even now, the district won't tell us where they plan to build the new Mystery Middle School..."

LWSD is looking at property in Redmond Ridge - near where marijuana was suppose to be grown and processed.