Timing is right for Blaine school bond measure

In 2008 and 2011, Blaine School District bond measures narrowly failed to generate the 60 percent approval needed from voters. In large part, the feedback that we received from voters was that while the items included in these measures could be endorsed, the “timing” of the measures, in light of the uncertainty of the overall economy, was not good.

Both earlier bond measures were aimed at addressing needed facility improvements. An extensive committee review in 2007 concluded the highly antiquated high school facilities were in need of significant upgrade. In each of the two bond campaigns the primary issue involved a combination of new construction and remodel at the high school. In the seven years since that first campaign, the need for significant facility improvements has only increased.

Following failure of the second measure in 2011, the school board decided to wait until existing bond indebtedness was paid off before bringing the full-scale bond measure, targeting all urgent facility needs, back to voters. The intent was to pursue an overall strategy to ensure a consistent tax rate for Blaine School District residents. In 2012, voters did approve a much-reduced measure totaling $3 million to remodel Blaine High School’s science building. The science building work was completed in the summer of 2013, with six upgraded classrooms opening that Fall. Repayment of the 2012 bond was structured to coincide with the other remaining bond indebtedness so that all bonds would be paid off by 2016.

With 2016 approaching, the board of directors began planning for the next bond measure with two key objectives in mind. The first objective, which has been stated and warrants repeating, was to ensure a stable tax rate. The second objective was to only ask voters to consider urgent facility needs. A facility task force, which included five Birch Bay residents, as well as representation from Blaine and Point Roberts, spent the Spring of 2014 considering program needs and alternatives. The work at Blaine High School was once again considered to be the priority focus of the next bond measure, with a projected price tag of $38 million.

In addition, the need for space to accommodate full-time kindergarten has now become an urgent matter. Blaine School District could offer full-time kindergarten as early as 2016. The facility task force considered a number of economically feasible options for creating classroom space to meet the needs of this program. Since there will be no increase in revenue for this program, other than for increased teaching time, expansion of capacity at the existing campus was the only feasible option. Ultimately, the task force recommended to the board that an additional classroom wing, with an estimated cost of $4 million, be added to Blaine Primary School.

Additional items on the current $45 million bond measure address urgent safety and efficiency needs. These needs include expanded cafeteria space, enclosure of a covered play area, parking lot and roof upgrades, and, perhaps most importantly, nearly $1 million of safety upgrades district-wide.

Over the last decade, there has been extensive dialog regarding the desire for a new school in the Birch Bay area. While the population in Birch Bay has increased, the overall enrollment in Blaine School District has remained consistent. Approximately 450 students are needed in order to operate a school with the services in place that our public has come to expect. Even if voters approved the expense of building a new school, without a net increase in students a new school in Birch Bay could only be operated if an existing school in Blaine were closed. The school board does, however, recognize that the Birch Bay community would be ultimately well-served by a neighborhood elementary school. In October of 2014 the board approved a resolution stating that once the urgent facility needs on the Blaine campus have been addressed (i.e. the bond is approved), the district “will pursue identification of a funding source and subsequent acquisition of a building site” in Birch Bay.

Blaine School District voters, including the communities of Blaine, Birch Bay, Semiahmoo and Point Roberts, have a solid record of supporting schools. As we continue down the path of ensuring the highest quality education for all students, this measure is an essential next step. The Blaine School Board has delivered on the commitment to urgent projects and a stable tax rate. The time is indeed right to get this accomplished.