Last-minute questions over the wording of a proposed ballot measure seeking $500 million for new and remodeled schools stopped the Tacoma School Board from approving it Thursday night.
Board members will come back next Thursday with revised language that promotes the broad geographic reach of the school bond package.
They don’t need to finalize their bond request to voters until December. And voters won’t cast their ballots until a special election Feb. 12. But there’s a sense of urgency because boosters need time to launch a campaign to win the 60 percent supermajority of votes needed to pass the bond measure.
The board heard last week from students and parents at schools throughout the district that would benefit if the measure passes. They painted a picture of aging and inadequate facilities.
On Thursday, board members questioned the proposed ballot language, which says the school district would use the money “to replace or renovate 14 deteriorating neighborhood schools, including Wilson and SAMI.”
Board President Catherine Ushka questioned why Stewart Middle School – also on the list of 14 schools – isn’t mentioned. She said both Wilson High School and SAMI – the Science and Math Institute – are located near the city’s north end, while Stewart is closer to the south end.
School officials said they worked with consultants to come up with the wording and that the length of the ballot language is limited.
The measure also spells out a long list of improvements outside the major construction that would be financed by the $500 million, including projects to improve health and safety, security, playgrounds and energy efficiency at schools throughout the city.
Wilson is the only comprehensive high school on the list of 14 schools slated for improvements. SAMI, a small high school, is housed in portable classrooms at Point Defiance Park; the district wants to build SAMI a permanent home if the bond measure passes.
Most of the 14 buildings on the list are elementary schools, and they’re spread across the district. The oldest, Washington-Hoyt Elementary, was constructed in 1906. The newest, Boze Elementary, opened in 1969. Five schools on the list date from the 1920s, and a sixth, Grant Center for the Expressive Arts, opened in 1919.
But Ushka said even though the major project list includes schools throughout the city, “most voters are not going to look it up.” She feared they might assume the only two major projects involve SAMI and Wilson.
Board member Karen Vialle agreed. She suggested changing ballot language to include Wilson and Stewart so that it reflects a better geographic balance.
After more discussion, board members agreed to postpone their final vote until next week, when they will consider revised wording.