While supporters of Tacomas $500 million school bond were celebrating a decisive election victory Wednesday, a more sober mood prevailed in Puyallup schools, where backers of a $279.6 million measure were perplexed by their loss.
New vote counts announced Wednesday put Tacoma over the voter turnout threshold needed to validate the election. And with more than 70-percent voter approval, according to the latest count, the bond campaign was the most successful in recent memory for Tacoma.
Youd have to go back to 1984, when more than 62 percent of Tacoma voters favored a bond measure, to find the next-highest showing.
In Puyallup, a majority of voters said Yes on Tuesday. But school bonds need a 60-percent supermajority to pass. As of Wednesday, just over 55 percent of Puyallup voters favored the bond.
Puyallup Superintendent Tim Yeomans said he appreciates those who understood the needs. But he thinks not enough voters understood the urgency of the districts request.
Its a shame that sometimes people feel as though they need to wait until theres a crisis, said Yeomans, who came to the district last year. This was his first bond campaign in Puyallup.
We didnt roll this out as the emergency that it is, he said. I would take responsibility for that.
The bond would have built additions to schools and paid for an entirely new school in the growing southwest sector of the district. That would have alleviated overcrowding and helped rid the district of its label as the portable classroom king of Washingtons largest school districts.
Yeomans worries that voters may be so used to those conditions they dont see the need to change.
We have had portables for so long, he said. Im not sure people understand the safety issues and the operational costs.
Portable structures are more difficult to secure and cost 1½ times more to heat, Yeomans said. With a 20-year lifespan, they were meant as a temporary solution to the Puyallup areas extraordinary growth. We are not one election behind on portables, he said. We are three elections behind.
The night before Tuesdays election, the Puyallup School Board heard a report that shows Puyallup enrollments growing by between 1,000 and 3,800 students over the next decade.
What we see on the horizon is telling us that we better get out in front of it, said Chris Ihrig, School Board president and the parent of three kids.
He said the district space crunch is one aspect of the need for new bond dollars. But he said hes also concerned about the lack of equity between schools.
We have schools that have barely moved from chalkboards to whiteboards let alone smart boards, Ihrig said.
He said some schools have been able to add classroom technology with generous gifts from their PTAs, but thats not fair.
We have computers in some of our schools that are approaching 10 years old, he said. That doesnt cut it.
Puyallup voters last approved a school construction bond in 2004. Measures failed twice in 2007 and again in 2009.
Kelly Long, a PTA mom at Spinning Elementary, said she voted against Tuesdays bond because she felt her childs school, and elementary schools in general, were being passed over in favor of larger projects at the junior highs and high schools.
She said the ceilings leak at her low-income school, and cracks in the playground are so bad her son couldnt learn to ride his bike there.
Elementary schools are where the money needs to be spent, Long said.
Yeomans said the district knows there were greater needs than those requested in the bond. The districts citizens facilities advisory committee had a list of $700 million worth of possibilities, he said.
He said Spinning would have received an estimated $2 million worth of improvements, had the bond passed.
Northwood, Spinning and Waller Road (elementary schools) were all identified for significant remodels, he said. Plus, he said, every school in the district would have received new technology.
He said schools targeted for expansion, rather than remodeling, were chosen because their enrollments are growing.
Ihrig said that as disappointing vote counts came in Tuesday, the need to regroup was immediately apparent.
We all looked at each other and said we need to rally the troops and come up with a go-forward strategy in the coming weeks, he said.
The soonest a bond measure could return to the ballot is April 23.
Andy Asmussen, who wrote the voters guide statement opposing the bond, said he expects to be out front opposing any repeat bond that resembles this one.
He said Wednesday he was happy, pleased that there still exists a very apprehensive and astute electorate in the Puyallup School District.
I can only hope that the district takes a moment to look at what it was that five out of every 11 voters found objectionable.
Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635
The Puyallup School Board will discuss the bond defeat and possible next steps. Members of the public are invited to share their comments during the public comment portion of the meeting.
When: Feb. 25 at 6 p.m.
Where: Ballou Junior High School, 9916 136th St E, South Hill.