The state will provide $18 million to build a new Toledo High School — but only if local voters approve a $7 million bond.
“I asked my 3-year-old if she would trade me her $7 for my $25, and it was a no-brainer,” Brad Dykstra, Toledo School Board chairman, said at the town’s community meeting Thursday.
I agree. It’s simple math: $18 million from the state and $7 million from Toledo residents equals a new school to replace the dilapidated 1974 building with leaky windows, paper-thin walls, and rundown classrooms. The latest proposal would cost Toledo landowners about $1 per $1,000 of assessed property value, or $200 a year for the owners of a $200,000 home. Give up one Starbucks latte per week and you pay for it.
At first the state’s offer — $10 million from the capital budget secured by local legislators and another $8 million from the state School Construction Assistance Program — seemed like a reward for stingy behavior after a minority of shortsighted Toledo voters opposed the school bond four times.
But 18th District state Rep. Ed Orcutt, who lives in Kalama, recognized the dilemma faced by local property owners.
“We just passed a bond down there that’s about five and a half times the one that just failed here,” Orcutt said. “The burden to the taxpayer is about the same for that $69 million bond in Kalama as what a $12 million bond would have been on the taxpayers here, and that’s just the difference in the industrial development we have in Kalama.”
The response to the new bond plan from a chief naysayer is enlightening — and rather pathetic.
“This is the best opportunity that I’ve ever heard of for any school district in my 30 years in education,” Superintendent Chris Rust wrote in comments on The Chronicle’s chronline.com. “If we put up $7, we get $18 for a total of $25. If we do not, we get nothing.”
Where did the district come up with the $7 million figure? According to Rust, the number comes from Bob Reid, also known as “cowlitzfisherman,” a chronic complainer on school taxing.
When asked by legislators if the community could support a small bond for a new high school, Rust said he remembered seeing the following quote from Reid in chronline.com comments Feb. 10: “Once the school board lowers their remodel costs down to the $7 million mark, they may get that 60 percent majority vote that they need. But until then, they are getting what they have asked for … lots of NO votes and more to come!”
Last week, Rust asked Reid if he stands by his statement, but of course he doesn’t.
“Short answer … No!” Reid wrote, and then proceeded to complain that the Toledo School Board has never listened to him, even though bond proposals put before voters have dropped from $23.5 million in 2014 to $12.2 million in February 2018.
Now the cost to Toledo residents is only $7 million. That’s a bargain for a new high school.
And the truth is, if we don’t fix our schools, residents will leave, and those who stay will find it much more difficult to ever sell their homes for a decent price if they’re living in a community with failing and dilapidated schools.
Orcutt toured the high school before pushing for the state’s largesse.
“It hurt to see the condition of the school and to know that you tried so hard for so long to do something about it,” Orcutt said. “We needed to see that school replaced, and you just don’t have the money from the taxpayers. … It doesn’t matter what the tax base is in the area. All kids deserve to go to a quality school.”
Noting that Toledo is one of 295 school districts in the state, he said, “We’re not doing this for every school district.”
I’m grateful to Orcutt, state Rep. Richard DeBolt, who sits on the House Capital Budget Committee, and Sen. John Braun for advocating on behalf of Toledo taxpayers. I only hope we have enough wise people in our community to support the smaller $7 million bond so we can take advantage of this good deal.
And, if Toledo does build a new high school, I hope the district is more diligent about maintaining it when things break.
Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at email@example.com.