January Community Questions

Photo of Superintendent Linda Quinn

1. Why does the District mail information about the school bond? How much did it cost to print and mail the 1-page flyer the district recently sent?

The School District is bound by law to inform voters about the school bond. We provide information to meet that obligation. For printing and mailing to approximately 17,000 households, our total cost was approximately $3800.

 

2. How long will this tax last?  

The bond will run for 20-22 years depending on market conditions at the time of the sale.

 

3. What is the total assessed value of real property in the Ferndale School District?

According to the Whatcom County Assessor, the total assessed value of real property within the Ferndale School District is $4,785,319,887. More information can be found here: http://www.whatcomcounty.us/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/14601

 

4. Are there any multi-property discounts for school related property taxes?

The Whatcom County Assessor works with taxpayers to facilitate discounts for senior citizens (low income) and disabled persons. For more information, call the Whatcom County Assessor’s Office at 360.778.5050.

 

5. Why not sell the unused property on Church road? I understand keeping the property for future use but there are already two unused elementary schools.

At some point in the future, we envision another elementary school on the North Bellingham site in a new building. We actually have a conceptual design and site plans. However, rebuilding North Bellingham did not make the top priority list with the 85 community members who spent five months studying all district facilities and coming up with the bond package that will be on the February 12 ballot (again).

 

The current California-style facility on the North Bellingham site was never ideal for our Pacific Northwest weather. In today’s world, where we have to be so much more concerned about safety and security, it is an even less desirable layout for a traditional elementary school.

 

The other issue at North Bellingham is that the wing built in 1938 has been “condemned,” or at least deemed unsafe to house students. We do use part of it for storage, but not for kids. The usable portion of North Bellingham can comfortably house 200-250 students – and we are using most of it.

 

This year, the programs housed at North Bellingham include the following:

 

  • Our new parent partnership (homeschool) support program. We realized two years ago we were the only district of the seven in Whatcom County that was not offering such a program. All six other districts not only had programs, but programs that were significantly growing – and some of their growth was due to Ferndale student transfers. If this was a service families wanted, we decided we needed to offer it. We started a small parent partnership last April (2018), and we now have about 30 students K-12 enrolled in the program.

 

  • Our developmental pre-school program. This is a compensatory special education program for 3- and 4-year-olds who are developmentally delayed. Prior to this year, we had four classrooms at four different elementary schools. Clustering them all on the North Bellingham campus has (1) allowed pre-school teachers to collaborate and share resources; (2) allowed transportation to consolidate and make more efficient runs (since our preschoolers are on a different schedule than other elementary students); and (3) freed up one classroom in each of four elementary schools. (There are four classrooms of these students at North Bellingham.)

 

  • The Transitions program for Life Skills students, who are allowed, because of their special education status, to remain in school learning and practicing independent living skills until they are 21 years of age. (There are about a dozen of these students.)

 

  • Our Jump Start Kindergarten program, which will begin later this month and run through the end of the year. Jump Start during the school year is relatively new in Ferndale. We started last spring (2018). However, Bellingham has had the program in place for about five years. We will receive state funding to provide a semester of school activities for students who will be going into kindergarten in the fall, but do not demonstrate school readiness skills. For several years, we have hosted a similar program for a shorter amount of time in the summer (without state funding) and the results have been very positive. The theory is that if we can close achievement gaps at a very young age, we will have to spend much less money trying to close them later. (We will have four classrooms of Jump Start at North Bellingham.)

 

  • Head Start. This is another pre-school program for low-income families run by the Opportunity Council. We rent one classroom to OC, which helps set off some of our other costs.

 

  • Other. This past fall, while one of our local churches was under construction, we rented them a space (at a reasonable rate) to hold their preschool at North Bellingham until their new facility was completed.

 

At this time, this is how we are using the North Bellingham campus. By keeping the buildings occupied, we are able to protect this valuable asset better than if it were empty – and it is currently providing space for some important programs. 

 

Some people ask why we don’t sell North Bellingham, but our School Board believes doing so would be short-sighted. Someday when the district needs the land for additional schools, such land may be much harder to come by.

 

Some people ask why we don’t tear down the 1938 condemned building (which I would really like to do). The reason is cost. The bid we got for taking it down in a way that meets all safety and environmental codes and disposing of the waste material was almost $1 million. We have so many other needs that have to take priority.

 

6. What is the plan for Mountain View? 

The District is renting part of Mountain View to Educational Service District (ESD) 189 for the Discovery program, which has been a very positive arrangement for the school district. The rental agreement included more than minor upkeep on the part of Discovery. The program paid for significant upgrades in the lower wing of that school – new flooring and paint, new cabinetry and countertops in some places, a number of repairs, etc. I was very happy when I toured the Discovery wing of the building in September and saw it all cleaned up, shined up and looking good. Once again, this is a case where an occupied building is so much easier to protect and care for than an empty one. And Discovery has the added benefit of creating a small revenue stream into the district.

 

One future plan that will be accomplished by June of this year is to turn the Mt. View library into a meeting space, professional development area, or even a community rental, which we can accomplish with lots of elbow grease and a little bit of money. Since Mt. View closed, the library has been a storage space for all kinds of unwanted furniture and material. We’ve got most of it cleaned out, and we have a plan to get the rest of it taken care of soon. Another staff training space in the district – one that doesn’t impose on our school buildings, teachers, and students during the school day – is a major need for us, so we are excited to get this aspect of Mt. View operational.

 

We have also entered into negotiations with a local organization who wants to rent the upper wing of Mt. View from us to use it as a daycare facility. Like Discovery, this organization would pay for the necessary renovation and, once they are occupying it, also pay rent. Since I hear all the time that quality daycare in a good location at an affordable price is a major need for many young families, we feel that, if this negotiation turns into a concrete deal, the result will be good for the district and also provide a service to the community.

 

As with North Bellingham, we do not have a plan to sell the Mt. View site. At some future date, I feel certain Ferndale will want to locate another school at that address.

 

7. Is there a plan for a second high school in Ferndale's future?  At one time land was purchased for this.  Do we still have the land and if so, are there plans for the use of this land?  If we no longer have the land, when did we sell it and what did we do with the money received.

We have no plans for a second high school. This topic has come up fairly regularly as we have talked about a bond to build a new Ferndale High School. The Bond Task Force considered the possibility of two high schools briefly, but quickly dismissed it as a viable plan. Putting 1400 kids in two high schools is much more expensive than putting 1400 kids in one high school – because (1) you need two of every space and they all can’t necessarily be half as big; and (2) you double your overhead costs when you hire two principals, two football coaches, two office managers, etc. Since we haven’t been able to raise the money to fix one high school, getting taxpayers to agree to pay for two seems unlikely.

 

A large high school is much more cost effective. A large high school also provides students with more curricular options. You could not offer 5th-year world languages or ten different music offerings or a whole menu of CTE classes in a small high school. There wouldn’t be enough students to fill the classes. When people think about having two high schools in Ferndale, I think they are envisioning two mini FHSes, both with winning football teams and celebrated marching bands and the best drama productions in the region. I have lived through the process of going from two big high schools to three smaller ones, and there was considerable disappointment about some of the unanticipated outcomes, mainly in terms of limited program options.

 

Some people ask if we aren’t going to run out of room at FHS soon. They are usually surprised to learn that our student enrollment in the Ferndale School District has not grown in ten years – despite all the growth in housing in our area. In fact, during the ten years I have been here, our overall district enrollment has decreased eight of those years. One year it grew by about a dozen students and one year it grew by a couple of hundred. The high school currently serves about 1400 students. If we get to build a new facility, we will build it for 1600, with easy capacity for adding classroom space. We believe that will serve our community’s needs for quite some time.

 

At some point before I arrived in Ferndale ten years ago, the district purchased a 29-acre parcel of land. A 29-acre buildable plot could be big enough for an elementary school or possibly a middle school, but it is not large enough for a comprehensive high school with a gym and athletic facility. And the particular 29 acres we own contains a considerable-sized portion of unbuildable wetlands. We haven’t seriously talked about selling this parcel, for the same reason I mentioned above.


8. Who audits Ferndale School District finances?

The Ferndale School District is audited annually by the Washington State Auditor. The school district is regulated by state and federal law, supervised by the Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction and is audited annually by the State Auditor’s Office (SAO). For more information about the process and the results of the school district audit last year, please see the following: https://www.ferndalesd.org/communications/blog/1614950/ferndale-school-district-earns-clean-results-in-financial-and-accountability-audits

 

9. What happens with funds that the District receives from outside groups for facility rentals?

All rental fees go towards the cost of operating the building. The School District runs rentals at a breakeven not as a revenue generating enterprise. So, the funds go towards paying utilities, employee costs, and a small amount towards equipment replacement if specialty equipment is used. Most of the rentals are by groups that serve our students. We very rarely rent to for profit-enterprises.