Monday, February 10, 2014

Letter: How LWSD uses taxpayer money to influence the outcome of the upcoming election

By Susan Wilkins

As part of the Lake Washington School District's plan to "modernize" Juanita High School, the district plans to tear down the 42-year-old building and replace it with a new building.  In 1968, King County voters approved the Forward Thrust Bond Measure that built pools around the county to teach children to swim.  Juanita High School and the Forward Thrust pool were both built at the Juanita High School site in 1971.   Read More >>

The school district has stated that if the 2014 Bond measure passes, when Juanita High School is rebuilt, it will not have a pool.  Residents who live near Juanita High School and use the pool were upset by this decision.  They sent emails to the school district saying that they wouldn't support the bond measure if the new Juanita High School didn't have a pool.  They showed up at the August 5, 2013 school board meeting and expressed their anger and dismay that they would be losing their pool.  In response, Superintendent Traci Pierce stated that there was "left-over money" from the 2006 bond, about $10-12 million, that could be dedicated to a new pool if another group would build and operate that pool.  However, the $10-12 million would only be available for the new pool if voters approved the district's $755,000,000 bond measure that would be on the February 11, 2014 ballot.


At their September 9, 2013 meeting, the Lake Washington School Board passed Resolution #2166 that stated that they would dedicate money to a "pool partnership" if and only if the bond measure passed.  Watching the video of the August 5 and September 9 school board meetings, it sure sounds like the Lake Washington School Board is offering the voters of Kirkland a new pool in exchange for their votes on the February 11, 2014 bond measure.  Offering the Pool Partnership Resolution to pool supporters quickly quieted organized opposition to the bond measure.  SAVE JUANITA POOL signs that had started to appear around Kirkland soon disappeared.  The trouble with the Pool Partnership Resolution is that it offers voters an enticement for a desired outcome - $10 million for a new pool - but only if voters approve the district's bond measure.  The fact that public funds are being used to influence the outcome of an election makes the resolution even more unethical.


School districts can enter into interlocal agreements with other school districts or public agencies to jointly construct and fund services and facilities that will be shared. However, the resources dedicated to the joint project must be proportional to the benefit received.  Only 150-200 Juanita High School swimmers use the Juanita Pool for high school athletics so allocating $10-12 million to build a community pool is way out of proportion.  The City of Kirkland has been actively investigating and planning a new pool and is counting on the $10,000,000 from the Lake Washington School District to help fund their new $25,000,000 pool facility.  The proposed pool was the main article in the January 31, 2014 edition of the Kirkland Reporter and mentions that $10-12 million will be dedicated to the Pool Partnership by the Lake Washington School District "with the caveat that the 2014 bond passes."  The City of Kirkland website has various articles and studies that show cost estimates for the new pool.  Clearly, Kirkland is counting on $10 million from the Lake Washington School District to fund the new pool.  Did anyone on the Kirkland City Council think that linking the specific outcome of an election to the receipt of funds was unethical, illegal or an outright bribe? 


Let's look at where the $10,000,000 in funds will come from for the Pool Partnership.  School construction bonds are a collective lien against all of our homes.  We get tax bills from the county, twice each year, to pay off the principal and interest on the bonds.  For the 2006 bond measure, the school district sold $436,000,000 in bonds.  Money from the sale of the bonds was deposited into the Capital Facilities Fund for the school district and disbursed to the various architects, builders, suppliers and contractors as schools were built. We, the taxpayers in the Lake Washington School District are responsible for paying off the $390,000,000 debt that remains from those 2006 bonds.  We will be paying those bonds off until 2029.  When I pay my property tax bill and I pay off my share of the 2006 bonds, I should not be paying for a public pool owned and operated by the City of Kirkland, but I will be if the school district gives $10,000,000 in "left-over" bond money to Kirkland.  Even if it is only $10,000,000 (of the initial $436,000,000 bonds issued), I will still be paying off  $10,000,000 in bonds for Kirkland's new pool.  Soon, the aging Redmond Pool, also built with Forward Thrust Bonds, will be closing and a new pool complex will be built in downtown Redmond.  No doubt, the City of Redmond will sell bonds to pay for its new Redmond Pool and Recreation Facility and I will be paying for that pool, too.  The City of Sammamish is finishing plans to build a new pool facility that will cost Sammamish taxpayers $25,000,000.  Why should Sammamish residents living inside the Lake Washington School District boundary be paying for the City of Kirkland's new pool?


Kirkland/Juanita is a wealthy area with $14 Billion in assessed value.  (For comparison, the entire Lake Washington School District has $34 Billion in total assessed value.)  Kirkland/Juanita residents could easily pass a bond that would fund the $10 million that the Lake Washington School District is offering plus another $15 million for the additional cost to build the pool.  Kirkland/Juanita residents should really be funding their own pool if they will be the primary users.  The Lake Washington School District should have told Kirkland/Juanita residents to build their own pool but instead they chose to offer voters in Kirkland/Juanita money for a new pool in exchange for votes that would ensure the passage of the bond measure.


No matter what the outcome of the election on Tuesday, making the release of funds for construction of the pool contingent on passage of the bond measure has tainted this election. 


1 comment:

John Reinke said...

As a homeowner in Redmond, I resent Lake Washington School District funds being made available (essentially as a bribe) to rebuild a pool facility for the use of Juanita residents. That is unjust and inequitable.

My sincere thanks to Susan Wilkins for all of her dedicated efforts and research into this matter, as well as her well informed previous posts regarding the $755M school bond issue.

As a consequence of these posts and those of others on this topic, I have decided to vote NO on Proposition 3. The Lake Washington School District can and must do a better job, and come back to the voters next year with an improved proposal that fixes all the flaws in the current proposition.