How to Sell BEX IV?

The Times has two stories about levies/bonds that make me wonder how the district, via the Schools First group who does the levy/bond campaigns, is going to sell BEX IV.

The first story is a round-up of Eastside capital bonds on the ballot Tuesday. 

Mercer Island wants to renovate ALL its schools - 3 elementaries, 1 middle and upgrades at their only high school.  Interestingly, opponents think they should build a new elementary to end the overcrowding at the elementaries.  Their bond is for $193.3M.

Issaquah is asking for $219.1M and has no opposition.

Renton is trying again to pass a $97M for a new middle school.  They almost passed it in Feb. but it only received 58% of the vote rather than the needed 60%.  That election also saw all the operations levies on the ballot pass. 

Now you may have noticed that the Eastside elections are for bonds but Seattle Schools cannot chance a bond with such a high dollar ask.  They are asking for the money via a capital levy.  That is one reason why the projects on the preliminary list will take longer than if we had a bond (and received all the money up-front).

The second article is an editorial today by the Times board noting the large (and looming) line-up of levies/bonds for Seattle voters. 

Now on Wednesday the editorial board said this on the issue of the Eastside bond measures:

Rebuilding aging schools supports learning every bit as much as buying textbooks or hiring a new teacher.

Extremely low interest rates make now an optimal time for school construction.

That are good points and ones that you would hope would resinate with voters.  

They also say:

Some voters are likely feeling pinched by funding requests coming from other areas of government in addition to schools. Prioritizing is the proper approach. Schools should be at the top of the priority list.

So that throws down the gauntlet for voters - do your homework (and that includes the math).

So today's editorial points out that the first levy election coming up for Seattle is for Seattle libraries.  Those do help educate children and provide needed computer access to low-income folks. 

Then there is the King County levy to replace the really run-down Youth Services Center.  It's a nine-year levy that would cost the average homeowner $25 a year.  Those youth do receive some education at the Youth Center.

Then Mayor McGinn wants a levy on the ballot for the seawall.  Not educational but safety first, no?

The editorial then gets to Seattle Schools:

Not too far in the distance, probably next February, looms Seattle Public Schools levies for building and operations. The B-word, $1 billion, has been mentioned as the potential price.

Voters should pay close attention because the result can be ballot overload.

Between now and 2016, there are about 14 levies and bonds to appear on various ballots.   Luckily, BEX IV comes earlier in that line-up rather than say, Parks, which comes later.

Now parents can try to help sell BEX IV by telling neighbors and friends about the dire state of their own building and/or the crowding.  This is something that most people could see and believe with their own eyes.

BUT we also have the visual memory of the district closing schools in the not-so-distant past.  And, the district is even proposing closing a school, Roxhill, and scattering their students (with most going to Arbor Heights).  So will they close Roxhill only to open it in several years?

So readers, you're savvy consumers - how would you sell BEX IV?

Also, quick and unscientific poll - which amount would you vote for?  $540M, $700M or $890M?  


mirmac1 said…
Zero, if they all have Burgess' gimme in SLU.

Seriously. I voted against all the stadiums, because owners could well afford, or could finance, construction on their own. How did construction of sports palaces improve the welfare and education of our children.

I'm not a tea-party. I give generously and believe in helping those who need help. Burgess and his buddies don't need help.

Take it off the list.
Anonymous said…
zero. They need to prove they can manage the money they have. My kids go to school in a terrible building. Levy or no, I doubt we'll see any of it.

-tired of paying more and more for less and less.
mirmac1 said…
BTW, since when did "ask" become a noun. Everytime I hear it I want to scream! McEvoy is good at using that and other jargon to avoid answering questions. It has become tiresome.
Anonymous said…
I'm sorry, but I can't sell any of the levy options as the have been presented thus far. They put off doing anything about elementary capacity in the northern part of the Eckstein service area until 2019 (John Rogers rebuild proposed on the most expensive levy). That is not very forward-thinking.

Also, I can't support the expense of building a new 1000-seat middle school at Olympic Hills when there is already a middle school building in the area (Jane Addams). Seems like it would be cheaper to build a new K-8 for the Jane Addams population, which would help lower the overall cost of the levy package, making it more attractive to voters.
- North End Mom
Shannon said…
I come from overseas and have lived here 10 years. Every time schools get a ballot to ask for money to build, I can't make sense of it. Its like passing the hat to build hospitals. The numbers being asked for seem ridiculous given the history of mismanagement in prior years but social infrastructure is horribly expensive: buildings, bridges, roads, holes in the ground and HQ for government so I feel both yeses and nos.

But since you ask how to sell Bex, my 2c. Speak to me where I am at instead of doing the same old. I am weary of being asked for money, weary of ballots, weary of being in a semi-economic depression with the end of the world coming. I am mired in uncertainty. I feel the district is always looking away to its own mean plan rather than the community desires, driven by desire for the best for their children (whatever that is). Because of this reality I am this close to saying "forget any BEX money, I prefer the crappy building we are in than your future because this one thing is known and I don't trust the district to do The Right Thing."

I want someone to claim to be doing the right thing. Let the buck stop somewhere. So, to vote yes I have to hear that you are doing the right thing finally. That you are going to build green, that you are building for the future - not just to cope with this demographic fart or that economic crisis, but that you have a vision, clarity, a way to make us proud of our schools.

500 million, 800 million... they are both nuts if you don't have a vision, clarity. For me its all or nothing. I am not voting yes for a half-articulated, covering-ass, will-sort-it-out later kinda plan.
The comments so far pretty much confirm what I have been hearing - "it's for the kids" is not going to cut it this time.

People need to see the far-reaching plan that can be clearly explained and understood.
Anonymous said…
What's the question here? When has an education levy in Seattle failed? I can't remember one failing. The economy is turning around, houses are selling etc, and people support education. It will pass. It doesn't matter what a bunch of bloggers think, nor how outraged they are about this or that.

Anonymous said…
How about: we don't have enough places to put our kids, class size is through the roof, items that were basic education when we were kids are now treated as unobtainable luxuries, your pay no state income tax, and per capita education spending in this state is--relative to income--the worst in the country, so stop being such whiny PNW losers and pretend you are a state that cares about education. Can you guess that I am not from around here?

Anonymous said…
To Observer:
Yes, this levy won't fail either I think, but it does matter which one (out of the proposed 3) will win. There is a HUGE difference between the numbers. So they better be prepared to give us a good enough explanation (or selling it the right way), Shannon is totally right.
- A
Charlie Mas said…
I'm with observer. The levy will pass. It might not get 60% but it will pass.

The district officials know that they have an electorate that will reliably vote in favor of school levies, so they don't have to be mindful of what they put on the levy or how they spend the money.

Even if I thought 30% of the levy were wasted, I would still vote for it to get the 70% that the schools actually need.
"I can't remember one failing."

Just so you know, there were ones in the early '90s that failed and it was to John Stanford's great humiliation. The district likes to trace the decline in spending on maintenance to ones that failed in the late '70s.

Yes, Seattlites support education. But the context of my thread is that Seattle is facing down a LOT of levies. Also, I think for many parents the SLU school might be a game changer.
Anonymous said…
Oh yes, both levies and construction bonds failed during the early part of Stanford's tenure here. The bonds repeatedly failed. The operations levy passed on the second go around. The Board took several stabs at getting the bonds but could never reach the 60%threshold for passage. It is why we do levies for BEX rather than bonds. Bonds are preferred as I recall because the money is generated immediately whereas construction levies are pay as you go. Please someone correct me if I have misinterpreted bonds vs levies.

Anonymous said…
I am not so sure it will pass on the first ballot. It depends on the size and how many of the primary and November ballot items pass. There is a limit to what people can afford even in Seattle.

Disgusted said…
I'm absolutely sick of DeBell's promotion of "NO Micromanaging" and promotion of giving away board power.

Considering DeBell's absolute failure to oversee the district, extension of MGJ's contract and subsequent $0.36M in severance package, I"d like to see a little more fiscal management/ pressure from the board to get things right i.e. Human Resourcesetc. There is atleast one Director that has zero tolerance for incompetence and fiscal management. The question is: Will DeBell continue to restrain the voices and actions of these individuals?

I want to see strenous oversight and demand for competent management of district dollars...even if it means a few board members getting fired up.
Disgusted said…
I'd also like to see numbers that really support the need for an elementary school in S. Lake Union. Otherwise, we'll see more opening and closing of schools.
Patrick said…
North End Mom, in order to accommodate Jane Addams's size as expected in the next few years it would need to be 750-800 seats. That's not much less expensive than building a new 1000-seat middle school, and it would disrupt a successful program.

What I'd need said in order to be enthusiastically in favor of the levy is that it's doing what needs to be done to house the kids safely and contains no fluff. I can't honestly say that now, and it's hard to vote for a measure where 30% of the money is probably going to be wasted or misdirected. I might hold my nose and vote for it anyway, but I won't be out telling all my neighbors to vote for it.
Eric B said…
Two words: sell local. Advertise around Wilson-Pacific that they get a new middle school and don't get crammed into Eckstein or Whitman. Advertise locally around schools that get seismic upgrades. Make the question "What do MY kids get for my $X/year?" Heck, even ask SLU businesses to "educate" their employees about what a new elementary school means to them.

PS The anti-levy people on Mercer Island offered a false choice. They said they want a fourth elementary instead of renovating 3 schools, but there's no land available and everyone knows it. It's easy to snipe from the side without offering a real alternative solution.
Anonymous said…
Up in Shoreline, they put big signs out in front of the schools, advertising how levy money is being used at that particular school (Seismic upgrades, new floors, new wiring, etc...). It makes the levy more personal, and I think it is a good strategy for gaining support of future school levies.

North End Mom
Jet City mom said…
If they drop the plan to placate business interests by building a new school in south lake union I will consider voting for the levy,

Don't we have more pressing allocation needs?
Working within a budget means you establish priorities for your money. Maybe if the board/district didn't think taxpayers had bottomless pockets and a forgiving nature, they would learn this.
NorthEnd, Seattle schools puts up signs as well and I think it is a good strategy.
Anonymous said…
Thanks, Melissa.

I guess I haven't noticed the signs from SPS.

The Shoreline signs are HUGE. Hard not to notice them.

North End Mom
Eric B said…
The sign in front of our school for BTA improvements was about 4 feet high and 5 feet long. The headline text was big enough to read from across the street, but you had to get closer to read the details. It was up all summer, bu I don't know how far into the school year it was up. It would be good to leave them up for a month or so so that people can connect the levy with the nice things inside.
Eric B said…
A couple more differences between levies and bonds. With bonds, you have to pay interest, so you don't get all the money, even though what you do get is all up front. Also with bonds, there's pressure to run a lot of programs early, since we have the money now. It may be easier to spread the projects out a bit to spread out project management workload (and prevent the need to hire more people) and to increase competition between contractors. If a contractor is already working on one or two schools, they won't be able to bid on the next project until one of the current ones finishes up.
Charlie Mas said…
Eric B is right that some of the money raised for a bond has to be used to pay interest, which is not the case for a levy, but since purchases with levy funds have to be deferred, inflation could make them cost more.

If the interest rate is lower than the inflation rate, bonds will buy you more. If the inflation rate is lower than the interest rate, then levies will buy you more.

Both rates are very low right now and it would be tough to say which would be the better deal going forward.

Also, levies only need a simply majority to pass while bonds need a 60% majority.
Dorothy Neville said…
Well, last capital levy, we turned around and sold bonds anyway, to get the money up front to accelerate opening schools. That could happen again.

Bonds need more than 60% yes, don't they? Don't they also still need enough voters to turn in ballots. I believe there has to be some minimum number of votes based on the turnout of the most recent election, which will be November 2012 including the gubernatorial race. Turnout in February for school measures is generally quite low.
Anonymous said…
What assurance can Seattle schools give the taxpayers that construction contracts will be written to allow competitive bidding?
They have been unable in the past to provide this function in their contracts.
Why should taxpayers be expected to vote yes for capital construction levies without this basic assurance?


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