Weber school officials lean toward bond initiative with no tax increase

Wednesday , August 02, 2017 - 5:15 AM

ANNA BURLESON, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — Weber School District officials are in favor of pursuing a bond initiative this fall that wouldn’t increase taxes.

Board of Education members and district staff spoke in favor of a $97 million bond initiative at a work session meeting Tuesday, Aug. 1. A formal decision won’t be made until the scheduled board meeting Wednesday, Aug 2.

The $97 million option includes a $22 million new elementary school in a northern area of Farr West called Remuda, a $22 million new elementary school in Pleasant View, a $5 million 12-classroom addition on Fremont High School, a $38 million renovation of Roy Junior High School and a $10 million addition at Weber Innovation High School.

Two other options would have increased taxes and included other projects: a new elementary school in Kanesville, a new junior high in West Haven, renovating Roosevelt and Canyon View elementary schools and rebuilding T.H. Bell Junior High School.

RELATED: Weber School District talks new schools, renovations with bond initiative

“Those projects that would end up on a bond list are absolutely critical,” Superintendent Jeff Stephens said. “They were needed probably yesterday. When you look at options B and C, will they be needed in the future? Yes. Are they needed right now? No.”

Survey results

Y2 Analytics surveyed 1,137 likely voters from within the Weber School District about the potential bond.

Managing Partner Scott Riding said the results showed if the district was going to pursue a tax increase, the same level of voter education would be required so they might as well pursue the maximum dollar figure.

The Y2 survey found respondents think the most pressing issue facing the district is overcrowding and class size and a lack of good teachers. Low pay for teachers came in third.

Bond initiative dollars, by law, can only be used on facilities.

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A total of 61 percent of respondents perceive the district as excellent or good, 24 percent think it’s fair, 15 percent think it’s poor and 7 percent said they didn’t know.

A total of 52 percent of respondents strongly or somewhat agreed the district needs more money to expand and rebuild schools but 39 percent strongly or somewhat agreed the district spends tax dollars responsibly while 38 percent somewhat or strongly disagreed.

Y2 Analytics also held focus groups and found once participants had the entire plan explained to them, they were more willing to vote for a tax increase. However, survey results suggest the largest tax increase option had the largest group in strong opposition and it would be difficult to educate that many voters.

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Once survey respondents were shown how much their taxes could increase should the district pursue a bond above $97 million, opposition increased by 3 percent. At the same time, the district gained 11 percentage points in overall support once respondents read details about the need for buildings and specific information about each proposal.

“It’s better to be safe and go with a sure shot than go with option C and fail,” board member Mitzi Kawaguchi said, referencing the option with the largest potential tax increase of about $8 per month.

Board President Jon Ritchie also supported not asking voters for a tax increase, especially given recent property value increases in the area.

“I feel comfortable being conservative to take care of our needs,” he said.

The district also conducted its own survey online. Of the 784 respondents, 73 percent said they’re definitely going to vote and 10 percent said they wouldn’t support a tax increase of any kind to fund education while the remaining respondents said they would.

Respondents said the most important projects the district should pursue are an addition to Fremont High, a new elementary school in Farr West and new junior high in West Haven.

The largest group of survey respondents said the district’s biggest challenges are growth, overcrowding and increased enrollment and 75 percent of respondents said they would be “very willing” to vote for the bond if it funded several major projects and didn’t increase taxes.

An open-ended request for suggestions at the end of the survey garnered varied responses both in support of and critical of the district. Some said they should be more proactive, fix existing schools before building new ones, better utilize existing resources and pay teachers more.

“It’s very insightful for me to look at and obviously there’s information we need to get out to the public,” district spokesman Lane Findlay said.

Some respondents also feared the needs of those in richer parts of the district would be prioritized above the poor and several people said the district’s innovation center is a waste of money.

“It would be nice if the board considered suggestions... even those that are not part of the original conversations,” one person wrote. “I don't believe there is a need for a new elementary in the southwestern part of the district.”

“I live in Farr West. I hate that my kids school is so crowded and that they have to go to class in sheds,” another person wrote.

Board member Paul Widdison said even if the board ultimately approves seeking a $97 million bond with no tax increase, it’s important to educate the community about why they need the money and what they’ve done with bond initiatives in the past.

“The thing is the communication to let these people know where we’re at,” he said. “They perceive Fremont as a new school, they perceive Hooper as the new school and they’re not uploading any new information.”

Fremont High was built 23 years ago, according to Standard-Examiner archives, and Widdison said he attended Hooper Elementary School as a student himself about 45 years ago.

Preston Kirk, an investment banking consultant, said per state law the district must officially decide about the specifics of the bond initiative no later than Aug. 21.

Contact education reporter Anna Burleson at aburleson@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnagatorB or like her on Facebook at Facebook.com/BurlesonReports.

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