Members of the Puyallup School Board are strategizing over when – or if – they will ask voters one more time this year for approval of a bond measure.
The school district's Feb. 12 bid for a $279.6 million bond package was defeated when it won just more than 55 percent of the vote, failing to reach the 60-percent threshold needed to pass bonds.
Board members met Monday night to discuss whether they should ask voters once again for money to replace and expand several schools, bring technology up to speed at all schools and reduce the need for portable classrooms.
They will meet again Friday, possibly to decide on a second bond vote.
The next chance to hold an election is April 23. In that case, the board would have until March 8 to submit a resolution to county elections officials.
“I’m not sure we can get the message to voters in a couple of months,” said board member Dane Looker.
Remaining election dates this year are Aug. 6 and Nov. 5.
Both offer limitations, in the eyes of district officials. They believe it would be difficult to muster a big enough turnout to meet bond election requirements in August, when many voters take vacations. And running it in November would mean placing it on the same ballot as two school board races, as well as other general election candidates – campaigns that might make it hard for the bond message to be heard.
The next option would mean waiting until February 2014. That is when the district will also ask voters to approve its expiring operations levy, which covers about a quarter of the district budget.
Board President Chris Ihrig said one reason to press for bond passage is to rectify what he sees as “inequity throughout the district.”
Some schools receive generous donations from their PTAs that allow them to purchase new technology for students, he said, while others make do with aging computers and software.
But board member Pat Donovan said he’s not sure voters see the need for a bond. He contrasted the current mood with that of 2004, when community members packed board meetings to plead for new schools. That was the last time a school construction bond was approved in Puyallup.
“I’m not sure our community is feeling the pain, the urgency,” he said. “The community thinks everything is going well.”
Donovan pointed out that it would be an added expense for the school district to call for a second election. But he said he might be interested in looking at a smaller capital levy. Capital levies, which run for shorter terms than bonds, require only a simple majority to pass.
Looker said it’s been a long time since most voters have been in a classroom. He said he understands how technology enhances learning because his wife is a teacher. But he’s not sure everyone knows the importance.
Board members also asked for citizen comments Monday.
Barb Frye, a retired Puyallup teacher, was dismayed at the defeat.
“Seattle voted for their children. Tacoma voted for their children. What is going on with Puyallup?” she asked. “We have to come together and find a way to make it work for our kids.”
Former board member Cindy Poysnick, who also served on the district’s bond advisory committee, said the bond proposal was a good one.
“This bond package was everything on the ‘no-longer-can wait’ list,” she said.
But she criticized the campaign itself. She said organizers did not involve enough members of community groups, booster clubs, service clubs, businesses and other grass-roots leaders.
Poysnick urged the board to run the bond again, with a “real citizens committee.”
“If you ask, they will come,” she said.
Board member Greg Heath, who chaired the bond campaign, said most registered voters did not bother voting, and too many would-be ‘Yes’ voters were no-shows.
“We are going backwards,” he said. He’s worried about the district’s dwindling capital fund savings, which the district estimates at about $10 million.
Puyallup’s Feb. 12 bond proposal sought added capacity at three high schools, a new elementary school in the growing southwest part of the district and replacement or expansion of three other elementary schools.
The bond would have eliminated the need for roughly a third of the district’s 220 portable classrooms, where about 20 percent of Puyallup’s students spend at least some of each school day.
Chief Operations Officer Rudy Fyles said the district is running out of portable options, due to site sizes, utility requirements and other factors.
PUYALLUP SCHOOL BOARD
What: Special meeting and study session
When: 9 a.m. Friday
Where: District Education Service Center, 302 Second St. S.E., Puyallup
What for: Board members may decide whether and when to place another bond measure before voters. They will also study preliminary figures for the districts operating budget.