Voters in a troubled economy said resoundingly Tuesday that they wouldn’t tax themselves to build and revamp schools in Tacoma, in Puyallup, in Auburn and on Vashon Island.
Construction bond and capital levy propositions were failing in all but one tiny outpost, early returns in the all-mail election showed.
Together, the four districts sought some $975 million for what they saw as both a way to rebuild schools and to stimulate the local economy.
Bucking the trend, the tiny Carbonado Historical School District’s request for a six-year technology levy appeared to be passing.
A group that gathered at Puyallup School District headquarters left in sadness within minutes after the first returns were posted by the Pierce County Auditor’s Office, schools spokeswoman Karen Hansen said.
She said they saw no hope for a turnaround.
“It looks like it’s a trend across all the districts,” she added. “It’s just hard times. People are losing their homes, their cars. … The economy is just too bad, I think, for folks to tax themselves.”
Tacoma School Board President Kim Golding, however, reserved judgment. She said supporters were excited because it looks like enough votes will be cast to validate the election.
The bond proposals must meet two high bars for passage: A validation requirement for total votes cast based on the huge turnout of the Barack Obama presidential election last fall, and a 60 percent yes vote. Capital levies need a simple majority to pass, but they weren’t mustering better than 50 percent either.
Golding said she and others were hopeful that votes arriving in the mail in coming days will be more positive.
But she added, “We anticipated having to go back to the drawing board if it didn’t pass. That’s why we did this election in March.”
Although thousands of ballots remain outstanding, election veterans including Hansen say it’s rare for election-night trends with these point spreads to be reversed.
The results of this election will be certified March 25.
The $300 million bond would have renovated Stewart Middle School, rebuilt Hunt and Baker middle schools, and paid for major additions at Wilson High School.
Two influential minority groups opposed the proposal, while another endorsed it. The Tacoma branch of the NAACP complained that the district isn’t doing enough to erase the achievement gap between white students and those of poverty and color. The Tacoma Ministerial Alliance criticized a “tax and spend policy” that “has very little to do with the education students deserve and demand.”
The Tacoma Black Collective endorsed the measure, saying rebuilding schools is an investment in the future.
Last year, the district outlined an ambitious building program totaling $1.2 billion over the next 11 years. Tacoma school leaders anticipated voter approval of $300 million bond issues in 2009, 2012, 2016 and 2020.
They were part of a carefully constructed plan to keep school property tax rates fairly level while bringing new money into the construction pipeline, chief financial officer Ron Hack has said.
About half of the city’s 54 major school buildings still need significant work, according to Sam Bell, the district’s general support services director.
The bond would have cost taxpayers 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation next year. That’s a tax hike of about $187 – or roughly $15.60 a month – for the owner of a house valued at $250,000.
The last Tacoma school bond to win approval from voters was a $450 million measure in 2001.
School Board members in Puyallup broke their requests of voters into two chunks: a $257 million, 20-year construction bond, and a $57 million, six-year capital projects levy. Both were designed to put a major face-lift on a the nearly 21,000-student district.
The relatively new Emerald Ridge High School on Puyallup’s South Hill needs an expansion, as do Puyallup and Rogers high schools, officials say. The bond would have paid for that construction and a long list of other projects, including the replacement of Firgrove, Spinning and Waller Road elementaries.
It also aimed to provide for growth of an estimated 700 students over the next six years and reduce the district’s reliance on portable classrooms, which now number 200.
The levy money would have replaced computers across the district and paid for maintenance needs such as school roofs, heating and cooling systems, flooring and earthquake-safety upgrades.
Together, the bond and levy would have added 83 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation to property taxes in 2010. That’s a hike of $233 for the owner of a house assessed at $280,000 – about 64 cents a day.
The levy request was simple: $12,000 a year for six years, totaling $72,000, to keep technology up to date. It will cost taxpayers 11 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, about what they pay now.
Proposition 1 sought $239 million in bonds to replace Auburn High, Olympic Middle and Terminal Park Elementary schools. Proposition 2 sought a total of $46.4 million in capital levy funds over six years for a range of projects.
The district wanted a $75.5 million bond for work on all three of its schools.
Kris Sherman: 253-597-8659
Preliminary School election results
Pierce County auditor results (plus King County, for Auburn) as of 9 p.m. Tuesday. Sixty percent support is needed to pass bonds; 50 percent plus one to pass levies.
DISTRICT %YES YES VOTES NO VOTES PASS/FAIL
TACOMA 46% 13,929 16,059 Failing
Bond 47% 9,176 10,541 Failing
Levy 46% 9,119 10,589 Failing
CARBONADO 63% 13076 Passing
Bond 43% 4,577 5,993 Failing
Levy 44% 4,625 5,987 Failing