Morton School District to Come Up With Plan to Address Failing Infrastructure After Bond Measure Appears to Fail

By Emily Fitzgerald / emily@chronline.com

The results of the Feb. 8 special election have yet to be finalized, but with preliminary results showing the Morton School District’s bond measure is nearly five percentage points shy of passing, the district has started working on ideas for addressing its failing infrastructure without the bond.

The final decision on what to do will come from the Morton School Board in the coming months, said Superintendent John Hannah.

“They’ll have some different options to consider and think about how to proceed. But right now, I think it’s going to be kind of gathering information and seeing what steps make sense (with our) timeline, which items allow us to address the risks and the needs short term. But our long term needs are still there,” Hannah said.

The $24.5 million bond would have funded the construction of a new bus barn and an elementary wing on the Morton Junior-Senior High School campus, as well as renovations to the junior-senior high school.

The elementary school presents the most pressing short-term concerns, Hannah said, as the existing structure could become too dangerous to continue using in the coming months.

Some areas of the campus have already been blocked off due to the risk of tiles falling off the roof, and an architectural engineer will soon evaluate the building’s front steps to determine whether they’re still safe to use.

District staff are going to meet with members of the school’s insurance team in the coming weeks to determine what the building’s most pressing needs are and to come up with some options to address those needs.

“I’ll be providing the board what options are out there for them, what are some steps we can take. They’ll have discussions and then they’ll need to make a decision and give direction in terms of what kind of information do they want (and) how they want to get that information,” Hannah said.

Despite growing concerns over the elementary school building, Hannah said the district doesn’t anticipate needing to act on those short-term concerns for another six to eight months.

“I don’t forese a change and our operations within a month, I don’t see it within this school year. We are making plans for next school year,” Hannah said.

If there are things the district can do to address some of those building concerns sooner, Hannah said the district will “definitely act on those quickly.”

“The issue we have really at that building has a number of risks, and how do we reduce the risks moving forward? Are there some short term things we could do?” he said.

Over the next month, Hannah said, “We’ll all be drinking from a firehose getting the information to work through and (discuss) what do we do next.”

Election Results

While the majority of voters voted in favor of the Morton School District’s bond measure, with a tally of 55.8%, or 423 votes, in favor and 44.2%, or 335 votes, opposed on Wednesday, the bond needed a supermajority of over 60% of the vote to pass.

The bond did get closer to passing this time around than the district’s previous bond attempt on the April 2017 ballot did. That bond measure, a $10.5 million ask to complete a similar construction project, had 54.26% of the vote, or 325 votes, in favor and 45.74%, or 274 votes, opposed, according to previous reporting in The Chronicle.

“The takeaway that I have from this was, one, we had a higher percent that we had in ’17, which is great that we had an improvement there,” he said, “but looking at the number of school levies that are failing around the state, the number of failing bonds around the state, I think, unfortunately, we may have fallen into … mask frustrations, over COVID frustrations, over a number of issues may have had an impact that not necessarily were just the bond.”

A growing number of students throughout Lewis County — including students from districts with funding measures on the Feb. 8 ballot — initiated student protests against the state’s mask mandates in the days leading up to the election.

Of the 10 school measures on the Feb. 8 ballot in Lewis County, the Morton School District’s bond and the Castle Rock School District’s levy request were the only two to fail — but a couple measures only passed by slim margins. The Winlock School District’s educational programs and operation tax levy passed with 51.34%, 554 votes, in favor to 48.66%, 525 votes opposed. The district’s capital levy passed with 52.85%, 537 votes, in favor to 47.15%, 479 votes, opposed. Onalaska School District’s levy proposal passed with 52.05% in favor, 728 votes, to 47.95%, 689 votes opposed.

Levy requests from Adna, Boistfort, Mossyrock, Napavine and Pe Ell school districts were passing with over 55% of the vote as of Wednesday’s tally.

Bonds need approval of more than 60% to be approved while levies need a simple majority of 50% plus one vote.

Voter turnout was at 36.48% as of Wednesday. The election results will be certified on Feb. 18.

Results can be found at https://results.vote.wa.gov/results/20220208/lewis/.

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