Voters reject five out of five local school bond measures
Last month voters soundly rejected five out of five bond measures that local school officials had asked for. In the April 25th election, voters in Kent, Steilacoom, Orting, South Whidbey and Clarkston turned down requests for more debt and higher property taxes to pay for it. To protect homeowners on fixed incomes, school bond measures require 60 percent voter approval. On April 25th none of the local balloting was even close to passing.
In Kent, over half of voters rejected a request for $495 million in new public debt.
Clarkson voters rejected $79 million in new debt. Similar vote outcomes occurred in Orting ($150 million in debt rejected), in Steilacoom ($116 million in new debt rejected) and South Whidbey ($80 million in new debt rejected).
School district officials usually put unpopular debt measures on the February and April special election ballots, knowing that general-election voters probably won’t turn out. That way district employees and their families will have more clout. The tactic didn’t work this year, however, likely because much of the public has lost confidence in the management of public schools.
As The Seattle Times editorial board recently noted, “A deeper problem underlies all of it: trust in leaders, or lack thereof.” One factor the Times noted is the “eye-popping” salary for the Kent Superintendent - $357,000 a year. On top of that, last fall the WEA union called a strike just as Kent schools were due to open, leaving parents in a bind. The union is also largely responsible for insisting that schools remain closed for most of 2020 and 2021.
I wondered what other factors may account for the loss of confidence in public schools. Using public records, here are some of the reasons voters may not want to pay higher taxes for a public institution they don’t trust:
School bond failures, by district, Superintendent salary, per-student spending and comparison with local private school tuition
# of students
Public spending per student
Tuition at a local private school
Once a proud part of every community, public schools are now often viewed with suspicion. School bond measures once passed by wide margins, usually at special Spring elections.
In recent years, however, lengthy shutdowns, Critical Race Theory, disdainful treatment of parents, teacher strikes, and seemingly endless cultural controversies have led many families to seek alternatives. Permanent job protection, rich benefits and high salaries have turned off voters. Today in many communities the best-paid job in town is working for the school district.
As this new reality sinks in, people are responding the only way they can – voting NO on school tax measures. This trend is clearly intended to send a message to administrators: turn away from fights over the culture and focus on educating children. Let’s hope at least some public school leaders are listening.
Table 15, Personnel Summary Reports for Certificated Superintendents, maintained by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, here.
“Workload Staffing Finance” charts, by District, Washington State Fiscal Information, here.
Private School Review, here.