The Puyallup School District Board of Directors will have a lot to discuss at its meeting next Monday as it figures out where to go following the failure of the $279.6 million bond package.
Voters turned down the bond Feb. 12 by a margin of 10,000 votes. The approval rating did not meet the state-required 60 percent supermajority. Instead, it was defeated by 5 percent.
“We haven’t passed a bond since 2004,” said Chris Ihrig, president of the school district’s board of directors. “Every day that passes, our access to any kind of capital funds are exhausted.”
Ihrig said the rejection was disappointing.
“The lack of new bond monies will create challenges around adequate space for kids,” he said.
Ihrig said up to 3,500 new family residences expected in the South Hill area will result in more space issues, and it will put more pressure on facilities and create bigger challenges.
“Our enrollment through the end of this year will be steady, but next fall is a new game,” he said. “If anything, we will be adding portables as a result of the vote.”
There are more than 4,000 students housed in portables for all or part of their day, school officials report. Superintendent Tim Yeomans said that’s about one-fifth of the student population, and it’s the highest number of any district in the state.
District staff members said the bond package would have helped to alleviate over-capacity and eliminate 90 portables. District spokesman Brian Fox said portables have been the norm for years.
“We’ve done a good job of hiding portables and painting them the same colors as the school,” Fox said. “I think it was 1990 when I was a new sixth-grade teacher at Brouillet Elementary, and the school opened with four portables. I remember we all thought it was ridiculous. We’ve opened all of our schools with portables automatically, and that is not right.”
The December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., sent a message to school districts nationwide that the safety and security of school facilities needs to be addressed. Fox said putting 4,000 students in portables is not safe.
“We didn’t talk about Sandy Hook, because we didn’t need to use that as a scare tactic,” he said of the bond campaign.
In addition to safety concerns, Fox said portables are a poor use of taxpayer dollars.
“It costs 1 1/2 times more to heat or cool those temporary classrooms,” he said.
The bond package would have increased annual property taxes for the owner of a $200,000 home by $12 more per month, Fox said. He added that is down from the previously listed $15 more per month because of the refinancing of previous bonds that saved taxpayers $23.2 million over 13 years.
Ihrig said it appears the sense of urgency for what students in the district need was not heard clearly.
“We just need to tell our story better,” Ihrig said. “We will continue to have a grassroots focus.”
Ihrig said the bond failure won’t sideline the fact that the district benefits from staff members who produce a high-quality education experience.
At Monday’s meeting at Ballou Junior High School, Ihrig said the board will discuss options regarding technology challenges at district facilities, as well as safety around the buildings.
Ihrig said he’s confident the board will choose to bring another bond measure on a future ballot.
“We want to make sure that the timing is right so we don’t repeat the pattern,” he said.
Elections will take place this year in April, August and November, or the district may choose to go back to voters next February.Reporter Andrew Fickes can be reached at 253-552-7001 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @herald_andrew.