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NV Schools bond addresses rapid growth while keeping taxes below 2018 rates

As the fastest-growing school district in a four-county region, Nooksack Valley Schools continues to outgrow its current footprint, leading an 18-member facilities committee to recommend a facility bond to address the overcrowding issues at the district’s elementary schools.

The NV Schools board has taken up that recommendation and presents the community with a $29.7 million bond for public vote on Feb. 12, 2019, that includes over $18 million to construct a new Sumas Elementary School, more than $2 million for four permanent classrooms at Nooksack Elementary and more than $6 million to add eight permanent classrooms and modernize portions of Everson Elementary.

“The number-one goal is to take care of the student growth,” says Mark Johnson, superintendent. “We don’t want a sea of portables in the back of each school. Kids and staff deserve and need quality classrooms to teach and learn in.”

The bond also includes $1.5 million for future capital needs, such as re-roofing schools, and $1.2 million to modernize portions of Nooksack Valley High School not previously updated.

Portable buildings, a growing norm handling Nooksack Valley students, don’t offer water or restroom abilities, lack the same level of safety and security for students and sit outside the infrastructure and support of main school services. The costs to purchase and supply the portables come from the general fund, money earmarked for student programs.

Since the last NV Schools bond the district has grown by about 250 students, almost all at the elementary level, a 16 percent increase in student enrollment in four years. While the average growth for the 35 school districts in the four-county region including Whatcom, Skagit, Island and Snohomish counties is 1.6 percent, Nooksack Valley grew by 7 percent in the last year alone, far and away the fastest growing district in the region.

The February bond aims to provide long-term space solutions for the growing enrollment while improving school safety and security.

Johnson says that while permanent classrooms will eliminate portables across the three elementary schools, Sumas was in need of more than additional classes. “We were looking at adding classrooms and doing a partial renovation and we got to $9 million,” he says. Then the committee asked what a new school cost and the group concluded: “Why put $9 million into a 50-year-old building when the best long-term decision is to build new?”

Passage of a bond won’t increase taxes compared to 2018. Due to new state legislation that equalizes school levy rates and caps amounts, Nooksack Valley’s levy rate will drop from $4 per $1,000 of assessed property value to $1.50 per thousand. The state will kick in additional money to make up a portion of the difference, money reaped from wealthier areas of the state. “Our taxpayers were one of the biggest beneficiaries in the state,” Johnson says. “Others’ taxes went up a little and our taxes went down.”

This new taxing schedule takes effect in 2019, so a home with an assessed value of $300,000 will drop from $149 per month in total local school tax in 2018 to $114 per month in 2020, with the passage of the bond issue.

Ballots for the Feb. 12 election will get mailed out in late January and construction on the new school space would wrap within 18 to 24 months of a successful bond.