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Group questions school plans

Watchdogs urge restraint by school officials as they plan a construction bond.

With a school construction bond of roughly $40 million set to go before voters in May, a watchdog group is urging the community to weigh in on the cost and scope of the project.

“We’re not trying to defeat property tax levies, but to have people understand the pluses and minuses, the pros and the cons, and to make sure people are fully informed,” said island bookseller Bob Fortner, a member of the Bainbridge Resource Group.

At present, the facilities bond dealing primarily with an upgrade of the high school is estimated at $40 million, while the technology levy is estimated at $7.9 million. Both will go before island voters on May 17.

One reason for the group’s concern is that local property owners could be confronted with $72 million in tax requests from local government agencies in the next few years, Fortner said.

“The major, overarching emphasis of the working group is to have the school district seek a balance of their high-priority needs with those of greater community,” he said, “because we know that other taxing districts are going to submit proposals.”

A report summarizing future tax proposals expected from local agencies is to be released next week by the Intergovernmental Working Group, made up of representatives of the city, and the school, fire and park districts.

The Bainbridge Resource Group – which a year ago was critical of a propsed fire levy that went down in defeat – plans to send letters to 250 island households, urging community participation in a series of meetings sponsored by the school board.

The meetings run through March 10, to determine what the capital facilities bond and technology levy will be spent on, and what the final amount will be. (Related story, page A3.)

The next meeting is at 5 p.m. Thursday in the Bainbrige High School library, and will address the relative costs of remodel vs. reconstruction of several high school wings and the LGI auditorium. The schedule of future meetings and their topics can be found at the school district website, www.bainbridge.wednet.edu.

The school board has already sent a letter to island residents, urging their participation, and board president Susan Sivitz said she welcomes the Bainbridge Resource Group’s interest in the issues.

A long list of questions about the future of the high school is currently under discussion. Should they replace or remodel buildings and classrooms? Add more parking? Expand playing fields and add artifical turf? Build a performing arts facility? Will the district need to add another elemetary school down the road, to deal with growing enrollment?

Some of those issues have been dealt with in the past, and many of them are being dealt with in coming weeks, Sivitz said.

Fortner and his group want the board to complete a strategic analysis of the site and detailed plans for all school facilities in the district, before the bond amount is decided upon. But Sivitz maintains that many of the issues being raised by the group have already been considered by the board over the past year.

“Sometimes people who weren’t involved from the very beginning aren’t aware that some of these issues have already been addressed,” Sivitz said. “I think that’s difficult for people to understand, when a process like this has gone on over a long period of time.”

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