Commentary: Ridgefield School District capital bonds — dollars and cents


The last three to four years have been difficult for many of us, not the least of which are the financial burdens. As I write this, gasoline is up more than 40 cents per gallon to over $4 in the last two weeks. Assessed home values continue to skyrocket; the median home price in Clark County is now about $627,000. In the last 12 years, the Washington state budget has ballooned from $30 billion to $74 billion. Taxes are up massively. Inflation has hit 40-year highs.

School districts have given large compensation increases to personnel putting a squeeze on operational budgets. Between 52% and 54% of property taxes go to public schools, even as test scores have declined over the last decade. The amount spent per student has doubled in the last 10 years.

The McCleary decision led to an increase in state funding between its approval and 2018 of an estimated $4 billion. Lawmakers financed that increase, in part, through higher state property taxes. See details in this June 2023 Seattle Times article: Why schools across WA are slashing their budgets | The Seattle Times, The amount spent per K-12 student in Washington State is at or near $20,000 average per head, when accounting for federal, state, levy and bond taxes — OSPI doesn’t include bond costs.

Ridgefield School District has two capital bonds on the ballot. The first, Proposition 10, is $70 million and promises to do several things: a new K-4 school; expand the high school; new metal shop and roof work. Right alongside is Proposition 11, which is $120 million. It promises to do more things: a new 5-8 school; new high school wrestling facility; resurface track; add playground equipment and sound proof the music room.

There is already an existing capital bond from 2012 that is still being paid off. Note: The new K-4 school they plan to build will be about 75,000 square feet and cost an estimated $613 per square feet. That comes to about $46 million. However, if we include site prep and state-matching funds, that $46 million may be closer to $65 million. That being the case, the cost per square feet could be as much as $867 per square feet.

The approval process is clear. If Proposition 10 is approved, then Prop. 11 can also be approved. However, if Prop. 10 fails, then Prop 11 can’t pass even if it got enough votes. Prop. 10 could be approved and move forward even if Prop 11 failed. The district’s hope is that both will pass. If both pass, that’s $190 million on top of the 2012 bond balance. Based on data from The School Data Project | An ongoing analysis of Washington State’s public K-12 schools, which tracks all school districts in the state, interest could add 55-60% in costs. If that’s the case, then the $190 million could ultimately cost $300 million.

Here’s a chart showing bond debt data:

If you live in the City of Ridgefield, you are subject to various city taxes on top of those for Clark County.

Currently district property owners are paying an estimated $2.53 per $1000 of assessed value for schools. The median home price in Clark County is around $627,000. Ridgefield itself appears to be closer to $800,000 for a single-family home. So the existing taxes would be $1,586 for $627,000 and $2,024 at $800,000.

The state of Washington collects an estimated $2.25 per $1000 of assessed value on top of the district taxes. That means that the $627,000 home pays an additional $1,410 and the $800k home pays an additional $1,800 per year.

The combined district and state school taxes on a $627k home is around $2,996, and the $800k home is paying $3,824. All your other taxes for fire district, ambulance, roads, clean water, etc., are on top of these.

If both of these bonds pass, it could add another $800 to $1200 per year onto your property taxes.

At a March school board meeting, the board discussed maintenance needs going forward. They acknowledged they don’t have the money needed and discussed the potential need for another bond and levy on top of these bonds. So be aware of the potential for even more funding requests down the road. (Editor’s note: The school district communications director stated to The Reflector in an email that there are no plans to have any current repairs noted at the meeting paid for with an additional levy.)

But wait, the EP&O levy for maintenance and operations will come up for vote in 2025 as the current levy runs out. We don’t know how much of an increase it will be, but it will be more, which will add to your tax bill. They will try to keep the “rate” near the current, but because of assessed value increases, the actual dollar amount of the next levy will be higher.

It’s important to understand that capital bonds require a 60% voter approval while levies only require 50% +1. The bar for bonds is higher because the payment period is frequently in the 20-year range vs. levies, which are three to four years.

The overriding issue for most people is affordability. Is your income rising faster than costs? You want good schools and buildings that are safe. Are there other ways to tackle the need for more classroom space by being more frugal (a Chevy and not a Mercedes), which could include modulars? Can you afford this increase in taxes?

Ridgefield has experienced growth over the past decade, while neighboring school districts are losing students and have excess capacity. How long before Ridgefield’s growth slows? Is it prudent to spend another approximately $300 million right now? Note: It appears that the district is only projecting student headcount out to 2028 but want to encumber taxpayers until 2046. Can they add capacity but do it at a lower cost?

It’s your call. There are a lot of articles being published about this bond vote. Try and read as many as possible and make an informed decision.


Dick Rylander is an area resident who started the blog in December 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in marketing and finance and a masters in business administration. He is a member of the three-person committee who wrote the Con or No position for the ballot on the bonds.