Scare tactics against Peninsula schools

The News TribuneOctober 18, 2013 

From left, John Chadwell of Harbor Hill Properties, Peninsula School Board director Rick Jones, Superintendent Chuck Cuzzetto and school board directors Harlan Gallinger and Rand Wilhelmsen unveil a sign last week at the location of what the school district hopes will become the site of a new elementary school. If voters approve the four-year, $50 capital levy in November, the school district will build a new school in Gig Harbor North, renovate Artondale Elementary and upgrade or replace synthetic athletic fields.

HUGH MCMILLAN/SPECIAL TO THE GATEWAY

Perhaps the single most misleading claim of this year’s election season — and that’s a high bar to clear — is being peddled by levy opponents in the Peninsula School District.

They claim that the measure will produce a “55 percent tax increase.” You can mislead by commission and mislead by omission. This is the omission kind, and it’s a whopper.

Many families pay roughly 20 percent of their income in taxes. A household with a $75,000 income might thus pay $15,000 to the local, state and federal governments.

So the Peninsula levy would add $8,250 to that household’s tax burden?

Wild nonsense.

The only tax in question here — contrary to the frightening campaign signs — is the property tax. Even then, only a portion of the property tax is involved, the fraction that supports local schools.

That small portion of citizens’ total taxes would indeed go up by something like 50 percent with the passage of Proposition 1. The levy would add $1.42 to the current school tax rate, about $469 a year for a home assessed at $330,000. Not chump change, but not 55 percent of any homeowner’s tax burden.

Another artful omission: Passage of the $50 million Proposition 1 would still leave the Peninsula School District with the lowest tax rate in Pierce County and one of the lowest in Washington state.

The district’s total post-Prop. 1 rate would run about $4.20. Compare that with University Place’s $7.50, Puyallup’s $6.30 or Tacoma’s $7.90.

Part of the reason for that low rate is the district’s relatively wealthy tax base. But another reason is that Peninsula voters haven’t been investing much in school construction in recent years. While the new levy is a jump, it’s a jump that would restore the capital investment to healthy levels — roughly what homeowners were paying in the 1990s.

Some of the fast-growing district’s schools are overcrowded, and one of them — 54-year-old Artondale Elementary — is in such poor condition that it needs replacement.

Proposition 1 would rebuild Artondale. It would also allow the district to tighten security at elementary schools (a priority underscored by last year’s Newtown massacre), invest in educational technology, and replace or rehabilitate artificial turf fields nearing the end of their engineered lifespan.

The measure is severely stripped down from the $78 million bond measure that failed in 2003 because it fell just short of the 60 percent approval required. Because Prop. 1 is a pay-as-you-go levy, it would save taxpayers as much as $25 million in finance costs.

This is a reasonable measure that will not raise taxes by 55 percent. But it will help maintain citizens’ home values — which depend in part on the quality of local schools.

To read earlier endorsement editorials, go online to www.thenewstribune.com/endorsements.

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