Puyallup schools again ask voters for funds

After a bond measure failed in February, school district proposes 2 levies to fund operations and technology

Staff writerNovember 4, 2013 

The Puyallup School District will ask voters to approve two tax measures in a February election — one a replacement levy to pay for ongoing operations, and a second levy to pay for both capital improvements to school buildings and technology purchases and upgrades.

At least two other Pierce County school districts — Tacoma and Bethel — will be asking voters to approve two levies on Feb. 11. Those two districts also seek support for ongoing operations and technology projects.

In February of this year, Puyallup voters turned down a $279.6 million bond measure that would have eliminated the need for roughly one-third of the district’s portable classrooms, added capacity at several schools and built a new elementary school. In the wake of that defeat, the district conducted a community phone survey in late August. It showed that voters would support both operations and capital/technology levies.

Bonds — the traditional way school districts pay for building upgrades— differ from levies. Taxes to pay for school bonds are usually collected over the course of a decade or more. Bonds require 60 percent voter approval, while levies require only a simple majority.

Capital levies, collected over a much shorter time frame, can pay for a limited number of big construction projects.

But Puyallup’s February capital/technology levy doesn’t include funding for any new school buildings. Instead, it focuses on technology improvements and repairs of existing district facilities. It also includes funding for new fire alarm and security systems.

“This is about keeping the roof fixed, keeping kids safe and secure, and taking care of what we have,” Puyallup Superintendent Tim Yeomans said.

The capital measure also includes funding for some added space for future all-day kindergarten classes. The district wants to expand that program when state funding for it increases. The proposed four-year operations levy would replace the current operations levy, which is set to expire after taxes are collected in 2014. That local levy finances about 24 percent of the district’s day-to-day budget. Yeomans said that percentage is expected to stay about the same next year, even with recently increased state funding.

If approved, the district would collect $49.5 million in 2015, $51 million in 2016, $52.5 million in 2017 and $54.1 million in 2018. The annual collections reflect a 3 percent inflation factor.

The projected tax rate per thousand dollars of assessed property value is an even $4.28 over the four-year life of the operations levy, 10 cents more per thousand than the current operations levy rate of $4.18.

The owner of a home valued at $207,000 — the average value in the district — would pay an estimated $21 more per year for the operations levy compared with current rates.

The capital improvements and technology levy would raise an additional $46 million over six years — between $7 million and $9 million per year, beginning in 2015 and running through 2020. It earmarks $40 million for capital projects and $6 million for technology. Officials estimate the tax rate for that measure will fluctuate between 60 cents and 71 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. That works out to between $124 and $147 a year, using the district’s current average home value.

School Board president Chris Ihrig said the board looked at a variety of factors when making its decision on whether to run a smaller capital levy or make a second attempt to pass a more comprehensive bond measure in 2014.

“What we found in February (of 2013) is that folks want to make sure we are investing in the classroom,” he said.

He said school populations are continuing to shift, with potential significant growth in South Hill, possible shrinking in the northern part of the district and stable numbers in the heart of the Puyallup Valley.

“We decided to maximize those resources, buildings and property we already have,” Ihrig said.

But he said the board hasn’t ruled out a future bond request if new housing projects bring increased school enrollments.

“There are a lot of (housing) plots waiting to be built on,” he said.

Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635 debbie.cafazzo@ thenewstribune.com @DebbieCafazzo

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