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Spokane School District considers cutting bond by millions for November election

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(The Center Square) – Spokane Public Schools is weighing its options as the August election looms.

The district’s $200 million bond failed in February, leaving the district wondering where to draw the line with taxes.

The SPS School Board convened for a special meeting Wednesday afternoon following Mayor Lisa Brown’s decision to extend the timeline for implementing her Community Safety Levy. With more room for taxes on this upcoming ballot, SPS is reconsidering its failed bond.

“It’s kind of our role to be the advocates for making sure that all of our students have adequate facilities and good learning spaces. The question is the time frame,” said Mark Anderson, the district’s senior advisor.

Given the current makeup of the August and November elections, Anderson asked the school board whether they would support returning a revised bond to one of the upcoming ballots.

The failed construction and renovation bond would have replaced Adams and Madison elementary schools while modernizing and improving several other facilities. The measure garnered around 55% of the vote but missed the 60% supermajority required to pass.

On the other hand, SPS successfully passed its Educational Program & Operations Levy, which replaces another one expiring at the end of 2024.

The EPO levy will cost taxpayers $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value; in comparison, the failed bond would have cost $1.34 per $1,000 of assessed value in 2025, a combined total of $3.84 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

Had the failed bond instead passed, SPS taxpayers would have paid an overall increase of 2 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value during its first year, according to an SPS fact sheet.

Board Member Hilary Kozel questioned the timeline that SPS is working with, given Brown’s decision to pull the Community Safety Levy from the August Ballot. She said if the board waits until November, they would likely have to compete against the Brown’s levy.

Kozel suggested the board cut some of the projects from the failed measure and instead focus on facilities that need immediate support. She said a $75 million bond is still more attractive than the failed $200 million one.

“Adams is the oldest; they’re ready to go,” she said.

Cindy Coleman, the district’s chief business and finance officer, said if SPS intends to collect and invest using the bond in 2025, it must pass by the November election.

However, Board Member Michael Wiser said he would support waiting until at least February for another run at the bond. SPS lacked the supermajority last February, so lowering the bond might help attract voters, but Wiser is concerned about complications due to other tax measures on the ballot.

“We got a lot of feedback,” Wiser said regarding a recent survey following the bond’s failure, “but a lot of it was why we shouldn’t be doing this.”

He said if the school board advances the bond to the November election and fails again, the February ballot is out of the question. Wiser wants to let matters rest while voters contemplate other tax measures.

Pushing back, School Board President Nikki Lockwood said November is the district’s best chance at getting the voter turnout needed to pass the bond with a supermajority. If not November, Lockwood wants to wait until 2027.

“By bringing the cost down a lot, we are listening to our community,” Lockwood said. “Less than half the [$200 million] would be helpful.”

To wrap up the special meeting, Anderson said SPS would come up with some different projections and decide at a later date. The School Board has until the beginning of August to decide whether or not to run another bond on the November ballot.

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