The Issaquah School District's months-long discussion about what bonds and levies to put on the February ballot is expected to expand tonight...

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The Issaquah School District’s months-long discussion about what bonds and levies to put on the February ballot is expected to expand tonight, as the School Board considers the possibility of 500 to 700 additional homes in the Issaquah Highlands.


District officials confirmed last week that land previously reserved for a Microsoft campus may now see the construction of several hundred additional houses, which could bring 250 more children into Issaquah schools over the next four years.


“That’s just a shock,” said Larry Ishmael, School Board president. “With this surprise growth, that really puts us over the top.”


The district was already expecting more than 700 additional students from the Plateau over the next several years. A new elementary school, the 14th in the district, is scheduled to open in the Highlands next year.


The public hearing will focus on a recommended $165.6 million facilities bond, along with three other levies that would address transportation, technology and building needs.


The School Board had hoped to vote on the recommendation this summer. But the possibility of construction in the area has stalled that plan, leaving the board with questions about how to proceed.


Bonds and levies


Bond and levy recommendations to the Issaquah School Board will be discussed at a board meeting at 7 tonight at district headquarters, 565 NW Holly Street.

Recommendations:


• Replace the maintenance-and-operations levy, which expires in 2006. It would average about $25 million a year over four years. The levy funds everything from teacher salaries to extracurricular activities. It is equal to 18.5 percent of the district’s operating budget.


• Replace the capital levy, which expires in 2006. It would average about $5.5 million per year for four years. It covers technology and critical repairs to the district’s facilities.


• School Bus Levy, a one-year levy that would cost $2.8million and fund the purchase of 52 school buses over the next four years.


• Capital bond for $165.6 million. The bond would help buy land for and build a fifth middle school; rebuild Issaquah High and Briarwood Elementary; add classrooms at Liberty High; add science laboratories at Maywood Elementary.


The tax rate for all four issues, if approved by the board and passed by voters, would be between $3.91 and $3.96 per $1,000 of assessed value — about the same as levy rates are projected to be in 2006. That would equal $1,173 to $1,188 on a $300,000 home. The bond and levy rates would begin in 2007, if approved.


Source: Issaquah School District


It’s uncertain how many homes will crop up on the Plateau and in the Highlands over the next several years. Issaquah Highlands developer Judd Kirk, of Port Blakely Communities, said he is still trying to measure the demand for office space against the demand for housing. He expects to make a decision within a year.


“It’s still up in the air,” he said.


Issaquah is already feeling the strain of dramatic growth. About 800 students were housed in portable classrooms this year, district officials said. In September, the district will open the 900-student Pacific Cascade Freshman Campus, designed to relieve overcrowding at Skyline and Issaquah high schools.


The district’s student population has nearly doubled since 1990. More than 15,000 students are enrolled in the district’s four high schools, four expanded middle schools and 13 elementary schools.


Earlier this year the board formed a bond-and-levy scope committee to look at the district’s long-term needs. The committee, a mix of staff, parents and community members, made its recommendations to the board in May: issue bonds to build a new middle school; rebuild Issaquah High and Briarwood Elementary; and add classrooms to Liberty High and science laboratories to Maywood Elementary.


The committee also recommended a replacement for the maintenance-and-operations levy, a replacement for the capital levy, and a school-bus levy. The tax burden would remain steady if voters approved those measures, the district said.


“There was unprecedented support from the community,” Ishmael said.


But it is now unclear what the board will do with the recommendation. It could ask the committee to revise its own recommendation, in light of the new information about potential growth. Or the board itself could revise the proposal.


 In a recent executive session of the Issaquah School Board, members discussed the possibility of acquiring land on the Sammamish Plateau in order to build a new elementary school. Ishmael said the board is likely to decide in September what to put on the ballot.


The district has a strong record of passing its bonds and levies, though it stumbled in 1998 with a technology levy and a bond.


Mary Waggoner, spokeswoman for the district, said it has been careful about asking the community to fund facilities.


“We have historically been very, very conservative, and that’s served us well,” Waggoner said. “We’ve never had a building without students to go into it.”


The district is also expecting another wave of growth in Sammamish after its five-year building moratorium expires in August. The council is likely to lift the moratorium. The city’s planning commission has suggested metering the growth so development doesn’t happen all at once. The proposed ordinance would allow 906 new homes by 2011.


“There’s a huge pent-up demand for building lots,” said Dean Mack, assistant superintendent of finance and operations. “We don’t know how that’s going to play out.”


Steady growth over the past decade has already forced the district to reconsider where it places students. A plan to move some students from crowded Cascade Ridge and Discovery Elementary schools met with strong opposition earlier in the year, leading to the formation of a new Boundary Advisory Committee.


That committee was charged with setting the boundaries for the new elementary school opening in 2006. But the district changed the committee’s mission after officials learned about the possibility of so many new homes on the Plateau.


Now the committee’s task is to find an interim solution to balance student population. After the February ballot measure, the group will turn its attention to a long-term strategy, taking a fresh look at all of the elementary and middle schools in the district.


“In a community and an economy that is changing as quickly as ours, the soup is always being stirred,” Waggoner said.


Cara Solomon: 206-464-2024 or csolomon@seattletimes.com