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Capital bond on districts table for November ballot

The West Linn-Wilsonville School District has definite plans to submit a capital bond to voters in the November general election. The amount won't be determined until after several other steps are complete.

Board members want to know how their patrons feel about a bond and what amount of taxation they are willing to approve. But the district is talking about two bonds because it has at least $180 million in needs.

As has been the case for a number of years, the board will do everything it can to keep its tax assessment at or under $3 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, which would have the effect of not raising taxes for the same value home.

The district could ask voters to approve a 25-year bond for up to $91 million this year, according to calculations of Seattle Northwest, the company the district employs to make accurate financial predictions.

To complete the district's pressing needs, Seattle Northwest says in 2012 it could go back to voters and ask for another $124 million - and still keep the tax rate approximately the same.

The board also has its sights set on gaining approval for its local option tax levy to support its operations budget.

If approval is gained for the current local option, which expires in 2010, it also will not raise taxes, according to Superintendent Roger Woehl. A local option ballot measure would be a renewal of that portion of residents' current tax bill.

The board met in a worksession recently with members of the school district's long range planning committee (LRPC) to discuss the results of the recent bond summit. At the summit, more than 100 citizens and school district employees considered many options and expressed their preferences.

Woehl said he held a summit of high level administrators within the district and asked them to rank choices for bond funding in a way that could be compared with the citizens' priorities from the summit.

'The top six items from the administrative leadership forum were the same top six that we saw at the bond summit,' Woehl said.

Those six items that have been recommended for bond funding include updating technology, deferred maintenance, building a new primary school in Wilsonville, bolstering alternative education, building a new primary school in West Linn and replacing Sunset Primary School.

But the board might choose some of the other items from its lengthy list of needs, or it might choose to fund part of the needs in several other areas and complete those projects with money from a bond on the 2012 general election ballot.

Sunset Principal Kathy Ludwig suggested to Woehl, he said, that it would be prudent to have all the planning done with funds from the 2008 bond, and then when the 2012 bond is approved the district would be able to immediately go out to bid.

But that idea might reduce the number of projects that could be accomplished with the 2008 bond, and Board Member Mary Furrow expressed concern that Sunset's reconstruction might be delayed to 2013 or 2014.

Sunset needs to be replaced entirely, said Director of Operations Tim Woodley, not in parts. Major issues include the water in old rusty pipes and the potential for damage as a result of an earthquake. Woodley said it could be a 'big-ticket fix' if the district plans to try to maintain, instead of rebuild, Sunset until 2013.

'Sunset is the biggest energy hog in the district,' Woodley said.

Warning the group to 'not throw good money after bad,' Board Member David Goode suggested that Furrow was talking about safety issues regarding Sunset.

Furrow agreed, but added that she also was concerned with the learning environment. The district is using some innovative teaching techniques in most of its schools, but the old Sunset school was not constructed in a design that allows all of the newer methods to be used.

Board Member Tom Bruggere said it's a question of priorities.

'We have to make a decision,' he said, 'based on what's best for the children.'

Two other sources of funding were discussed, including land sale proceeds and the construction excise tax.

LRPC member Tom Miller reminded the group that after the schools are built that are planned with bond funding, the district will be basically out of land for new primary schools. Board Chair Dale Hoogestraat said land sale proceeds should be used mainly to purchase more land.

The construction excise tax would be best used for technology, said Goode, and also for deferred maintenance, according to Bruggere. Furrow suggested that portable classrooms might be paid from the excise tax, while Assistant Superintendent Thayne Balzer added replacing furniture to the growing list.

Before adjourning, members of the board and LRPC discussed items that they wanted on the random community survey to be conducted later this month.