Voters in Pasco and Prosser on Tuesday failed to pass bond measures needed to build new schools in their districts.
Initial election results showed 47 percent of Pasco voters approving the bond measure to build several new schools. In Prosser, 55 percent of votes counted were in favor of paying more property taxes for a new high school.
Bond measures need a 60 percent supermajority to pass.
Pasco has been the fastest-growing city in the state for much of the past ten years. With all those new houses come new kids.
Enrollment has increased from not quite 9,000 kids 10 years ago to more than 15,000 today. The district has built six new schools in that time and remodeled others to expand capacity.
Still, it is running out of room. Several of Pasco's schools house 50 percent more students than they were built for.
To make more room, the Pasco School Board decided to run a $59 million bond measure. It expected $50 million in state matching money.
The bond would have cost homeowners 95 cents per $1,000 in assessed value, or $95 for a $100,000 home.
The $109 million would have paid for a new elementary school, a new middle school and a new early learning center.
The district also planned to buy land for future schools, fix Stevens Middle School and Livingston Elementary School, relocate New Horizons High School and pay for a few other improvements.
It will have to put those plans on hold for at least a little while. As of Tuesday evening, the Franklin County Elections Office had counted 4,010 "yes" votes, said Election Administrator Diana Garza Killian. There were 4,535 votes against the bond measure.
That count included all ballots received through Monday. About 500 ballots came in on Tuesday, Killian said. Those will be counted today.
Another 400 ballots couldn't be included in the initial count because information needed to be verified with voters. Those will be counted Friday, Killian said.
And ballots still will arrive in the mail today and be counted.
In all, there is a mathematical chance that the outcome could be changed, but only if every single outstanding ballot were in favor of the measure. That chance is "very slim," based on past experiences, Killian said.
When the results were announced to a roomful of district officials, board members and bond campaign volunteers at the district administration building Tuesday, the around 40 people in attendance fell silent.
"Well -- thank you everyone," Valerie Moffitt, the co-chairwoman of the bond committee, called out. "We appreciate all your hard work."
Her voice betrayed her struggle to stay upbeat. A volunteer in the back of the room quietly cried.
Board member John Hergert dropped into a chair and buried his face in his hands.
Officials were disappointed, but they knew the difficulty of asking people to pay more taxes.
"We never take any election for granted," said Superintendent Saundra Hill. "We knew it wasn't a really good time for this."
But they figured they had made their case to voters.
"Nobody questions the need (for new schools)," Hill said. "People are needing our services but not wanting to pay for it."
The district now will take an even harder look at other options it has discussed to alleviate overcrowding. Those options include multi-track, year-round school -- running school all year while not having all kids come in at the same time. Running two shifts of classes also had been discussed.
"Those other options rise higher now," Hill said.
The board will discuss whether to rerun the bond in August at its next two meetings.
Even on a third try, the Prosser School District couldn't convince voters to pay to replace its high school, which is too small and too old.
The district put a bond before voters in 2005 and failed to get approval. Three years later, the district started another bond campaign but never put it on the ballot as the economy tanked.
In February, school officials tried again. They got 56.6 percent voter approval -- just a few points short of the 60 percent needed to pass a bond measure.
As of Tuesday evening, the number had slightly dropped -- to 55 percent.
Of the ballots received by 4 p.m. Tuesday, 1,829 were in favor of the bond measure and 1,497 were against, said Stuart Holmes, Benton County election supervisor.
About another 250 ballots are expected to come in and be counted, Holmes said. "It's not likely that results will change," he said.
Prosser High School was built in 1936 for 500 students.
A wing was tacked on, and portable classrooms were added, but the almost 900 students flooding the crumbling hallways need a new school, the district has said for years.
It wants to build a new high school east of Art Fiker Stadium.
After the bond measure failed in February, the district asked voters about their concerns at board meetings.
Some questioned if the district and its contractors had put together the leanest budget possible and what would happen with any money left over after the new school is finished.
The district addressed those concerns. It hired a firm to review its construction budgets. The firm said the Prosser school proposal was sound and not extravagant.
The district's architects slashed $2 million from the construction budget.
And the school board voted to use any leftover money to pay off the bond, effectively returning tax money to voters through lowered rates.
In the end, the district asked for a $39 million bond, which would have triggered tax rates of $2.35 per $1,000 of assessed value, or $235 for a $100,000 home.
The last payment for a previous bond will be made in December, Craig Reynolds, the district's business manager, has said.
Property owners are paying $1.37 per thousand for that bond this year.
That means taxes for a $100,000 home would have gone up $98 next year.
Prosser Superintendent Ray Tolcacher was not available for comment Tuesday.