Top- Benji Box, 17, is a senior at Highline High and a supporter of the district's bond proposal. He joined other students and families urging support for Prop 1 by waving signs in Burien on Monday, Oct. 24. photo by Lindsay Peyton Bottom- Karen Steele wants more transparency from the Highline School District in their request for a multi-million dollar bond issue. She opposes the bond and will vote 'no' on Tuesday. photo by Rob Clay

Editorial: No taxation without transparency -- Residents want more information 

Residents of the Highline School District are being asked to vote in favor of a $299 million bond issue Tuesday.

We're hearing some grumbling from the community on this issue -- and a few of our readers have raised some challenges to the administration's claims.

These challenges warrant examination.

Let's start with the basics. The bond totaling nearly $300 million is for Phase 1 of three major sets of improvements in the district. If the bond passes, the district would build a new Glacier High School, a new Des Moines Elementary School and a new Highline High School. Some of the funds  ($23 million) would be reserved for building design for Evergreen, Tyee and Pacific schools. The balance would be used for "critical needs fund,"  interim student housing and security and communication improvements for all schools in the district.

Also in the administration's plan book are Phases 2 and 3. Opponents claim that combined, local taxpayers would be paying nearly one billion dollars over the next eight years to put these plans in place.

For Phase 2, $376.85 million (would be used to build a new schools at Evergreen High, Tyee and Pacific and new Southern Heights Elementary. It  would also pay for video surveillance, transportation and maintenance and more funds for critical needs.

Phase 3, to be implemented over the next two to four years, would be used to build new Chinook ,Cascade and Sylvester schools, a production kitchen and bulk and food storage facility.

According to a district spokesperson, " The school district has NO plans to run three bonds in six years. That has not ever even been discussed by staff, the school board, or the Capital Facilities Advisory Committee."

Does the district have a plan for the phases that follow?

To sell this package to the community, the administration has held a series of public meetings. The meetings have been hosted by a carefully chosen group of pro-bond individuals whose service on the committee is meant to support the bonds on behalf the public.

The problem with this approach is that the committee has been spoon-fed by the administration and the board seems to have been complicit with this approach. 

The outcome of the meetings has been an announcement of the needs for the three-phase bond.

Why does this need further examination of the public? Residents are already paying for previous measures. They have a right to know what lies ahead.

School board members seem to have been counseled to refer all inquires about the bond to the community relations department of the administration.

If these are public servants, elected to represent the community, shouldn't they be allowed to respond to the media?
What should be an open and transparent presentation comes off as a tightly controlled show that avoids answering some fundamental questions.

Critics claim there has been a pattern of neglect of the physical campuses that has led to the need for replacement of many of our schools. 

This cannot be  attributed completely to the current administration, but it has presented them with the problem to ask the patrons to solve.

If the district has been a good steward of taxpayers' dollars, why are the buildings falling apart?

The district says "State recommended staffing for maintenance and custodial workers in a district the size of Highline is 149 total Full Time Equivalents (FTE). We currently have 144 custodians and maintenance workers. Regarding painters, at one time we had 4 or 5; since passage of the 2002 and 2006 bonds we have replaced 13 schools with new buildings. These buildings have fewer painted surfaces, so we have not needed as large a painting staff. We currently have two full time painters."

Why is the district below the state recommendations? 

A prudent property owner does not allow their house to fall into disrepair. You would lose the value of the home -- and it would make for a less desirable place to live.

In that vein, maybe the district should have been proactive with campus maintenance -- and with regularly requesting the necessary funds for upkeep. 

Perhaps, Highline has asked for too much too late in the past and that is why previous bond issues were not supported.

The administration tolerates no objection to the bond. Merchants who  posted signs in opposition to the bond have reported being badgered by the board to take them down. 

These bullying tactics raise the implication that the district is not totally upfront about the cost to the patrons. One example was used by a KOMO TV reporter about the cost to individual homeowners was based on the value of a $250,000 house. A 2015 story in the Seattle Times showed the median price for a single family residence in King County at $500,000. 

It is understandable why the district would want to soft-pedal the real cost. The real cost to individual homeowners might seem onerous.

Some readers of the paper told us of their objection to the bond but did not want to be named for fear their children might be ostracized at school.

One reader pointed to a report entitled Enrollment Trends and Projections for Highline and Region (2015), which states there is a decline in enrollment and numbers below projections. Meanwhile, the board would like us to believe there is overcrowding.

The area which includes the Highline School District already has one of the lowest per capita incomes in the county.

It is appropriate for taxpayers here to question the wisdom of going ahead with all the proposals being put forth by the Highline School District administration at this time. 

If the bond is not approved, the district will resubmit it in February. Perhaps this interval is needed for the district to demonstrate transparency about these important issues and to consider alternatives that might better fit the pocketbooks of those being asked to pay the bill.

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