School board nixes $19.5 million bond

The decision marked a sharp halt to the board’s months-long momentum in developing the bond project.

Vashon Island School District’s (VISD) board of directors has voted to scrap plans for an upcoming $19.5 million capital improvement bond.

The decision took place on Nov. 15, at a meeting that included an agenda item for members to vote on an official resolution to put the bond measure before voters, after months of planning and consideration.

Instead, at the meeting, board president Toby Holmes made a motion to withdraw the bond resolution, which passed unanimously.

The decision marked a sharp halt to the board’s months-long momentum in developing the bond project.

In September, board members had voted to approve the funding level of the bond — one of the last steps before the scheduled Nov. 15 vote.

And throughout 2022, work on the bond included outreach to the community, including two surveys and a fall public forum, touting the projects under consideration and seeking public input.

The projects selected for the bond — now put on hold — included a partial renovation to Vashon High School’s (VHS) gym, to bring it into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act; replacement of the 30-year-old parking lot at VHS; asbestos abatement and painting the exterior of McMurray Middle School, as well as renovations to its restrooms; and safety updates to Chautauqua Elementary School including a new fire alarm and HVAC systems, as well the replacement of its playground equipment.

Key players in developing the bond project included consultant Brandy Fox, who has helmed VISD’s capital projects for the past six years, but recently announced that she would cease working for VISD in order to concentrate on other clients of her long-established business, CPM Seattle Inc. Other consultants included Ryan Swanson, a senior vice president at Piper Sandler, a financial firm, and Jim McNeil, a principal at the law firm of Piper Sandler.

In an email communication to district families last week, school board president Toby Holmes explained the board’s decision to withdraw the bond measure at the 11th hour.

“We are facing a range of uncertainties related to the general economy, state education funding, interest rates, and inflation,” said Holmes. “By suspending the bond request, we can more carefully reduce risks until we are in a stronger position to confidently manage such a large undertaking.”

Two weeks prior to the decision, VISD also announced the resignation of VISD’s current director of business and finance, Kay Adams, a longtime director in the VISD’s business office who had been promoted to her new post after the district’s then-financial chief, Matt Sullivan, resigned in August to accept a similar position at Mercer Island School District (MISD).

Adams, too, resigned in order to accept a post at MISD, starting in December.

At the time of Sullivan’s departure, Superintendent Slade McSheehy had announced that Adams, along with VISD facilities director Kevin Dickerson, would help spearhead the $19.5 bond measure.

Adams’ resignation was not mentioned during the Nov. 15 board meeting as a factor in the board’s decision to suspend the bond project.

However, prior to the meeting, McSheehy had told The Beachcomber that he had asked board members to consider Adams’ departure “as part of the discussion prior to the decision” on the bond.

VISD’s community email regarding the decision said that “in lieu of the proposed bond, the school board has triaged the most urgent projects the proposed Capital Projects Bond would have funded — identifying the upgrade of the fire alarm system at Chautauqua Elementary School (CES) as the most needed service.”

The current system is out of date and replacement parts are difficult to come by, the email explained, and in the event of a system failure or malfunction, VISD would be required to institute a 24/7 “fire watch” until fixed.

However, the email went on to say that the school board had now identified potential remaining funds from the 2017 Capital Projects Bond, as well as capacity from the district’s current capital tech levy, to address the CES fire alarm system.