After four failed bond measures, the Toledo School Board is no stranger to bond controversy. At their latest meeting on Thursday, the board brought in a state representative to make sure their fifth proposal doesn’t fail from misinformation.
Rep. Richard DeBolt-R, Chehalis, attended the meeting to answer questions regarding the potential $7 million bond measure and accompanying state funds.
If Toledo passes the measure, the state will give the district $18 million to build a new high school. The $18 million consists of a $10 million grant for distressed schools and $8 million in School Construction Assistance Program (SCAP) funding.
The state money is specifically for construction of a new high school. Many of the public comments and questions were from people who wanted to explore other options, such as consolidating Toledo and Winlock high schools.
DeBolt reiterated that if voters do not pass the $7 million bond measure to construct a new school, the state money will go away. DeBolt, who sits on the House Capital Budget Committee, noted that the legislature has no say on consolidation.
“I only get to work with the tools I’m given,” DeBolt said.
Dale Merten, chief operating officer of ToledoTel, fielded many of the public questions as well. ToledoTel offers fiber optic internet in the area and has done work on the high school.
Merten said he makes his decisions based on the numbers, and that consolidating the high schools would not be cheaper. He also noted that consolidation would require Winlock voters to raise their taxes.
“I’ve run the numbers,” Merten said. “They just don’t work.”
Merten said he voted no on the previous bond measures, because he didn’t believe remodeling the high school made financial sense.
“I’ve been a silent no,” Merten said. “Now I’m a loud yes.”
The high school was built in 1974 and does not meet current building codes. The structure is so unstable that in the event of an earthquake, teachers would direct students outside the building.
The public comments and questions lasted for about an hour and included questions such as, “What would the new school look like?”, “Where is the money coming from?” and “Why is the state always broke?”
DeBolt explained the function of the capital budget.
“We have never defaulted on a bond,” DeBolt said. “The capital budget is not mandated by the state, it is literally only for building buildings.”
Board Chairman Brad Dykstra said it’s too early to discuss what the new school would look like.
After half a dozen or so audience members made negative comments about the bond measure, DeBolt asked people in favor of the bond to raise their hands. Most people in the room raised a hand and several people spoke out in favor of the bond.
DeBolt compared a Toledo-Winlock consolidation to when Vader and Castle Rock consolidated their school districts. He said there was an 80-house gain in Castle Rock and that Vader now pays a higher tax rate.
“If you kill your high school, it will die and the state won’t be able to save it,” DeBolt said. “You’ll end up like Vader.”
The board said it wants to hold a town hall in May to specifically discuss the bond. It did not set a date at the meeting, but asked the audience for feedback on convenient days and times.
Superintendent Chris Rust said he recommends not to include the track and restrooms in the potential bond measure.
“I think we just need to be really clear about where we are,” Rust said. “I’m working on other options of how we can accomplish that.”
Dykstra said the school board will vote on whether or not to put the proposed bond measure in front of voters at its next meeting, which will be held at Toledo Middle School on May 17 at 7 p.m.
Editor’s Note: Richard Debolt is a part-time marketing consultant for Lafromboise Communications, the parent company of The Chronicle