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VOTE Yes committee works on final push in campaign for Tahoma School District's $195 million construction bond measure
The bond before voters includes money for a new Tahoma High School to be located on 35 acres in the Donut Hole in Maple Valley. It also includes what are referred to as warm, safe, and dry projects as well as funding for work related to restructuring the district’s existing schools for different grade levels.
The committee has met since May and organized the effort to encourage the community to approve the bond. State law prevents the district from campaigning for the bond measure.
That effort included having a presence and being available to answer questions at the Maple Valley Farmers Market this summer and fall, as well as at each school’s open house, being in front of local stores, encouraging residents to register to vote, door-belling, and sign waving.
“I think more importantly than anything … if this is going to pass we’re going to need the people of the community to step forward and participate and be involved and we have seen that in big, big numbers,” said Sean Stewart, who is a member of the VOTE Yes committee. “So, if I can point to any huge success we’ve had it’s that. People have been coming out of the woodwork to support the bond.”
Sarah Gilbert-Newall, who volunteers for the committee, also pointed out a billboard advertising the bond near 7-11 in Maple Valley as something new which wasn’t done before.
The focus of the campaign has become about making connections and having conversations, Stewart said.
“We found that having personal interactions with people makes a big difference. I know for a fact, just me, that I’ve personally convinced people to change their vote from no to yes by having those interactions,” Stewart said. “And I’m not alone in that, other people have too. So, doing the door-belling is sort of the last big push of that personal interactions. To have those polite conversations with people to state our case and try to win their vote, try to earn their vote.”
Stewart said the committee made some progress on its goal to get community members registered to vote.
“We had some success there, not nearly as much as we would have hoped, but we did get new people registered for sure,” Stewart said. “I saw people at the high school open house, after Tim Adam spoke to all the parents and he said, ‘Whether you are voting yes or no you should be registered to vote, there are too many of you not registered.’ And I saw people after up there registering, so it had some impact.”
Stewart and Gilbert-Newall agreed selling voters who live in unincorporated King County on the bond measure remains the biggest challenge.
“It’s hard to convince them because a lot of times we use the thing, ‘If we pass this bond it’s good for the city, it’s good for the county, your property values will increase,’” Gilbert-Newall said. “But then the flip side of that, people will say well then it means more people will come here. It’s just a different mindset.”
Both said they are optimistic about the bond’s chances.
“We’re doing the absolute best that we absolutely can,” Gilbert-Newall said.
Stewart added that effort this time around is broader than in the past.
“At this point if we don’t pass, I don’t know what we would do differently this time around,” Stewart said. “Especially with our presence at the grocery stores and the farmers market and the emphasis we have put on personal contacts, and the door-belling that’s coming up — these are things that we are doing in much bigger ways then we did previously, or we didn’t do them at all previously. And we can see the difference that’s making when we switch people from no voters to yes voters, when we convince them.”
The common points Stewart they have been hearing in opposition to the bond is that the price tag is too high and community members don’t think alternate scheduling will really be implemented.
“Sometimes they’ll say they think the alternative scheduling is a threat from the school district — they don’t think the school district will actually implement it because they didn’t last time — and they’re resentful that the school district is making a threat that either you vote for this bond or this will happen,” Stewart said. “Of course, it’s not meant to be a threat, it’s meant to give them the information to say, ‘We’ve run out of options. We think that the bond is a better option. But if we don’t pass the bond we’ll have to go with the other option but none of us want to do but we’ve run out of options to house kids.’ Unfortunately some people are perceiving that as a threat. It’s not meant to be a threat. It’s meant to be: this is the reality we’re facing and you have a choice of which route you want to go.”
Gilbert-Newall said she sees the bond as an opportunity for residents of the district to vote to improve quality of life beyond the schools.
“It will bring value to the community,” Gilbert-Newall said. “I just see it as the right thing to do for the community that you live in.”
Stewart pointed to the need to relieve overcrowding, repair infrastructure, and the benefits having a regional learning center — which is part of the proposal for the new high school the bond would pay for if approved — will provide community members.
“It (a bond failure) will have a detrimental effect on our community as a whole,” Stewart said. “What will happen to your property value if the number one reason people move here turns into the number one reason people won’t move here? Everybody, whether you have kids in this community or not, everybody has a stake in the school bond and that’s the number one thing they need to know.”
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