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"What price growth...?"
Copyright 1998 The Seattle Times Company

Editorials & Opinion : Friday, May 15, 1998

Vote `Yes' for schools in growing Issaquah

A VOTE against Issaquah's school-construction bonds on Tuesday is not a way to control growth. Instead of a simple measure asking voters to approve $31.2 million in construction bonds to build new schools, the election has come down, in the minds of some, to a referendum on growth.

Do not be deceived; it's not.

Growth is a constant in Issaquah. Its effects touch almost every aspect of daily life - getting to work, going to school, buying groceries and visiting the post office. Voting against the school-bond measure won't slow growth; a no vote will only exacerbate the effects of growth and give the district fewer ways to reduce its impact on parents and their children.

Remedies to any community's growth problems lie elsewhere, including with the King County Council, which may address the question next fall of fees charged developers to compensate for the community impact of new homes. The underlying issue is how any school district can plan for unprecedented growth, and what methods are available to reduce the strain on taxpayers.

Issaquah's bond measure failed at the polls earlier this year based, in part, on opponents' contention that developers are not paying enough and that the elusive search for concurrency - matching pace of development to the need for schools, roads and utilities - was failing.

That argument is fair game in discussions about a tax increase to buy more school sites and build on them. But the argument fails when the district is asked to do things it cannot do, such as arbitrarily raising impact fees, or declaring concurrency at an impasse, or finding money from declining state school construction funds.

The district is asking voters to approve three issues. The first and largest is the most contentious. Proposition 1 asks for a construction bond of $31.2 million for land purchases, construction of an elementary school in the Trossachs development, a new middle school and school repairs throughout the district. The proposition is $20 million less than the $53 million requested in February. Proposition 2 is a 4-year, $8.9 million technology levy that has also been scaled back and puts greater emphasis on staff training. Proposition 3 is a one-year levy of $1 million to buy 10 new school buses.

The construction levy is the key issue and is tied inherently to opponents' attempts to slow growth. Yet, reasonable questions about the ill effects of growth do nothing to address the problems of today's school population increases. So much building now is in the pipeline in Issaquah that there's no end in sight for the next six years.

How the County Council will react to the school district's attempt to nearly double builder fees - to $6,000 per residence - is an important question, but still in the future. Holding off school sites and new construction for that day becomes more costly to every taxpayer as land prices rise.

Like other cities, Issaquah is caught in the lag time that comes from sudden growth and the county's almost leisurely growth-mitigation process. In the meantime, voters must allow the district to grow with the community it serves. A "yes" vote on all three measures will do that.

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