Town hall meeting held after bond issue fails to get enough votes

Ferndale School Board members are tasked with the decision of how and when to return to voters.

panel members and attendees take their seats just prior to a school bond town hall meeting 2018-11-15
Panel members and attendees take their seats just prior to a Ferndale School bond town hall meeting put on by bond supporters after the bond issue failed during the 2018 General Election (November 15, 2018). Photo: My Ferndale News
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A group formed to support the failed $112 million bond issue proposition on the November 6th ballot held a town hall forum last night in the Pioneer Pavilion Community Center. The primary goal, according to organizers, was to measure community support for bringing the bond proposition back to Ferndale School District (FSD) voters in a special election.

The primary focus of the bond was construction of a new Ferndale High School to replace most of the existing buildings.

Support Ferndale Schools organized the forum so people could ask questions, some submitted via email and some via notecards handed out at the door, to be answered by a panel made up of the following people.

  • Ferndale High School (FHS) Principal Jeremy Vincent
  • FSD Director of Facilities and Maintenance Jamie Plenkovich
  • FSD Superintendent Linda Quinn
  • FSD Assistant Superintendent for Business and  Support Services Mark Deebach
  • Support Ferndale Schools Member Rob Fickeisen
  • Community Bond Task Force Member Riley Cornelsen
  • FHS student representative Alex Faria
  • FHS student representative Deirdre Hegarty

Approximately 100 people showed up for the 2-hour meeting.

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Paraphrased examples of some of the questions and answers from panelists:

Q: Why was there no construction design for voters to consider?
A: It does not seem financially prudent to incur the significant cost of design engineering until the bond issue is approved. But there are requirements for the number of square-feet per student and realistic cost estimates can be arrived at based on the estimated square-foot requirements.

Q: Other area bond issues appear to have accomplished more with less money. Why can’t Ferndale do the same?
A: The $325 per square-foot cost estimate used is a very conservative rate. FHS is the largest school in the county and requires larger facilities to house the students. These will cost more than the smaller buildings at other smaller schools.

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Q: Being FHS is the largest school in the county, would it not be better to plan for 2 smaller high schools?
A: While Ferndale as a city is growing in population, the school population has been staying relatively flat. If a second high school were to be created, there would need to be a duplication of programs and, with that, a duplication of costs.

Q: Have other funding sources been researched?
A: Grants and partnerships were considered by the task force but the task force was uncertain of whether such funding was even legal given school district’s legal constraints to accept outside funding and even if they were, they are not always dependable sources.

Q: Is it true the 60% super majority requirement on municipal bonds may be changed?
A: The possibility is there. 10 years ago passing a school levy required a super majority and since then the State Legislature has changed the law to require only a majority (50%). The next legislative session is the earliest opportunity for this to happen.

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Q: Where do we go from here?
A: The Ferndale School Board has to make that decision (board members were away at an annual conference in Spokane). There are special election dates offered in February, April and August. The decision to hold a special election for the bond issue has not been made. It could cost the school district upwards of $50,000 to be on a special election ballot. This could be paid for from a district reserve account but the money needed to get the word out to voters would be harder to come by.

It was noted a special election bond measure would require 40% voter turnout compared to the voter turnout in the most recent general election. 15,136 people voted on the bond issue during this 2018 general election. So at least 6,055 voters would be required to vote on the bond in a 2019 special election for it to be valid. Voter turnout during special elections in 2006 and 2008 was 6,875 and 6,750 respectively.

Below is a live-stream video of the event provided by FSD Communications & Community Engagement Coordinator Erin Vincent (about 1 hour, 40 minutes).

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