The state Legislature’s failure to pass a capital budget could leave two Skagit County school districts in a bind when it comes to paying for current construction projects.
The Anacortes and Mount Vernon school districts are in the midst of projects that rely on state funds.
Anacortes is counting on about $3 million in state funds for the district’s $91 million high school construction project, which is set to be completed next year. Voters approved $87 million through a bond in February 2015, and the district received a $1 million donation.
“We’re depending on these dollars to complete the project,” Anacortes School District Superintendent Mark Wenzel said.
Mount Vernon is undertaking a five-part $139.4 million project — $106.4 million from a voter-approved bond and $33 million from the state — according to numbers from the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
For the Mount Vernon School District’s first part — construction of a new elementary school on East Division Street — $6.9 million in state funds is included in the $33.7 million cost.
“We do need that commitment from the state to complete our project,” Mount Vernon School District Bonds Project Manager Suzanne Gilbert said. “But our project is fully underway.”
Voters approved the district’s five-part project in February 2016.
Unlike other districts undertaking construction projects throughout the state, neither Skagit County district will have to stop or delay construction because of the state’s failure to pass a capital budget.
“We have to keep going,” Gilbert said. “It would be far more costly to stop the project at this point.”
However, if the state does not approve the money by the completion of construction, the districts would be forced to make up the difference, Gilbert said.
“We’re counting on them,” she said.
The Associated Press reported the state Senate refused to vote on the capital budget because of disagreements over a state Supreme Court ruling about water rights that is referred to as the Hirst decision.
Rep. Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes, called the Senate’s actions a “hostage” situation.
“Really politics at its worst,” she said. “What I say to the Senate Republicans is ‘shame on you.’”
Many schools, Lytton said, waited until the economy improved to take their construction requests to voters. Now, she said, even though voters have approved the projects, districts are again stuck.
A former Anacortes School Board member, Lytton said she worries about the implications the failure to pass the capital budget might have, especially when it comes to the state Supreme Court.
A 2012 state Supreme Court decision, known as the McCleary decision, ruled the state was not living up to its constitutional obligation to fully fund basic education.
“That also includes classroom space,” Lytton said. “So I’m not sure how the court would react to this.”
Unless Gov. Jay Inslee calls the Legislature back earlier, it will not reconvene until January, Lytton said, and could address the issue then.
“(Inslee) shouldn’t call us back until there’s a compromise and a handshake agreement that the Senate will vote on a capital budget,” she said. “I’m hoping when we go back in January that we will have different Senate makeup and we will be able to compromise and we will be able to move forward for the citizens of our state.”