BURLINGTON, Wash. — Big changes could be in store for the Burlington-Edison School District.
The school board voted 4-1 on Monday to accept a recommendation from a facility advisory committee to ask district voters to approve an up to $98.3 million 20-year bond issuance proposal.
The majority of that money would be used to build a middle school for seventh- and eighth-graders, ending the district's long tradition of K-8 schools.
"Our K-8 system has been a proud tradition for decades," board member Bill Wallace said. "Is our K-8 system broken? No, but we've learned that we can do a much better job of providing our students with that strong transition to high school that we were seeking."
Monday's decision was the first step toward putting the proposal to voters, potentially in February.
If approved, the bond would add $1.85 per $1,000 in assessed property value being paid by property owners to the district starting in 2020. It would bring the total being paid to the district to $4.08 per $1,000 in assessed property value.
Thanks to changes in state funding and the expiration of a $2.4 million voter-approved supplemental levy, that is less than the $4.92 per $1,000 property owners are now paying to the district.
The school district's last construction bond — approved by voters in 2001 to build Lucille Umbarger Elementary School — was paid off in 2016.
The proposal would include about $72.9 million for the middle school, about $11.7 million in safety upgrades and classroom additions to Burlington-Edison High School, and about $10.6 million in improvements to West View Elementary School, which sits adjacent to the high school, according to the district.
If the board goes forward with the proposal as presented, the new middle school would be built where the district's alternative high school, Burlington-Edison North, currently sits just north of Burlington-Edison High School.
Burlington-Edison North students would be relocated, possibly to the district office on East Fairhaven Avenue, Superintendent Laurel Browning said.
The proposal includes about $3 million to relocate Burlington-Edison North.
The middle school recommendation was made, in part, to help the district solve some of its longstanding space issues related to growth and state mandates to lower class sizes in the lower grades.
"We need additional facilities," Wallace said. "We know we can't put any more portables at any of our elementary schools."
As planned, the middle school would house 625 to 650 students, according to the district.
It would also allow for more middle school programs, something the district has been looking to increase in an effort to better prepare students for high school.
Currently, the district's options for middle school elective classes are spread throughout its elementary schools, meaning not all students have the same opportunities when it comes to electives.
"I think it would be bad to not let our children in this community have those options," board member Roger Howard said.
Board member David Lowell voted against the proposal, saying that while he supported making the upgrades to the high school and elementary school, he did not want to see the district move away from a K-8 system and was worried voters will not either.
Given the narrow passage of the district's $2.4 million supplemental levy in November, Lowell said he is concerned voters will not support additional taxes, especially while still paying off the $6.8 million debt from a 2007 purchase of 29 acres of farmland near the intersection of Peterson and Pulver roads.
"I just think this is not going to be received well in the community," he said at the meeting. "I hope I'm wrong."
That debt will be paid off by 2024, according to the district.
But other board members said now is the time to act.
"I don't want to wait another six years," board President Rich Wesen said. "The newest buildings we have are 15 years old. In order to reduce class size in the lower grades, we need to have a way to get more classrooms."
Board member Troy Wright also didn't want to wait.
"My concern with waiting is $98 million is going to turn into $128 million for no more than we're getting now," he said of rising construction costs. "I've seen too many kids not ready for high school. We have to make a change."