Two Pierce County school districts are looking for some love from local voters in the special election on Valentine’s Day.
In the Feb. 14 election, the Orting School District seeks $41 million from the sale of bonds that will mature within 21 years. Money raised would add a new elementary school to the growing district, among other improvements.
The Dieringer School District, also growing, is asking for $9.5 million from the sale of bonds, maturing within 20 years. The money would pay for added classroom space and other improvements.
A note about school bonds
School bond elections are validated based on the number of total voters.
A turnout equal to 40 percent of the ballots cast in the last November general election is required to validate a bond election in a given district. With high voter turnout in the recent presidential race, districts face a high validation hurdle.
In addition to validating, bond measures need a 60 percent supermajority to pass.
Here’s a closer look of what each school district is requesting.
Most of the money in the Dieringer School District’s request — $6.2 million — would cover its share of construction already approved by voters in the Sumner School District.
Dieringer, a small district with three schools and just under 1,500 students, lacks a high school. Students can attend high school in any public district, and most — more than 60 percent — attend high school in the Sumner district. That makes Dieringer responsible for paying for part of Sumner’s high school projects.
In 2016, Sumner voters approved a $145.6 million bond measure that includes improvements at Sumner High School and creating additional space at Bonney Lake High School.
An extra caveat
Should Dieringer voters reject the bond, the school district could choose to rerun it in April. But if the measure were to fail twice, the Dieringer district could be disbanded and its students absorbed by neighboring districts. A regional committee would determine how that would happen.
It’s not an idle threat, according to Dieringer Superintendent Judy Neumeier-Martinson, and it’s happened elsewhere in the state.
This would pay for a three-classroom addition at Lake Tapps Elementary School, as well as a new secure entrance. The district says the extra space is needed to accommodate state requirements to reduce class sizes for primary grades. Lake Tapps houses children only in primary grades, first through third.
Neumeier-Martinson said the school is already using every bit of available space.
“There’s no room left,” she added.
The remaining dollars would pay for improvements at the district’s two other schools:
▪ Dieringer Heights Elementary School: roof, exterior walls, HVAC system and a new secure entrance.
▪ North Tapps Middle School: improved HVAC system, interior painting and a new secure entrance.
The district anticipates an increased bond tax rate of 23 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The total bond tax rate would be about $2.47 per $1,000 through 2022. The payoff of older bonds at that point would drop the bond tax rate to about 35 cents per $1,000 for the remaining life of these bonds.
Number of votes needed to validate: 2,038
Number that need to be “Yes” votes for the measure to pass: 1,223
Learn more at the district website
New housing developments are bringing more kids to the Orting School District. The district of about 2,500 students added 100 students this year, and a similar number the year before.
“There’s so much development, and more is coming,” Superintendent Marci Shepard said. “We are seeing a lot of growth in Orting, and we are feeling it.”
The district predicts that by the start of the 2021-22 school year, its permanent classroom space for kindergarten through fifth grade classes will be at 180 percent of capacity. Orting Primary School, built for just over 200 students, already has more than 500. Ptarmigan Ridge Elementary School, built for about 500 kids, houses 700.
The school district has relied on portable classrooms, but is running out of space for more of those, officials said. Orting High School is over capacity as well, but the needs are greatest at the elementary level, Shepard said.
If the bond passes, the district would construct a 62,000-square-foot elementary school for 550 students. It would be built on property the district owns next to Ptarmigan Ridge Intermediate School.
Estimated cost for the new school: $36 million.
The district also would build a 4,500-square-foot cafeteria addition at Ptarmigan Ridge, at an estimated cost of $3 million. Overcrowding makes it difficult to schedule PE and lunchtimes at the school’s single multipurpose room, which serves as a gym and cafeteria, officials said. As a result, some kids eat in their classrooms. Others have PE there.
The remaining bond dollars would add safety and security measures to all district schools, including controlled school entrances, security cameras and improved alarm systems.
The bond would cost voters about $1.14 more per $1,000 of assessed property value. Taxpayers in the district currently pay $3.16 per $1,000 for bond debt. Passage of the new bond would temporarily raise that amount to $4.30 per $1,000. In 2023, the bond tax rate would drop to $1.81 per $1,000 because existing bond debt will be paid off.
Number of votes needed to validate the election: 2,602
Number that need to be “Yes” votes for the measure to pass: 1,562
Learn more at the district website.
School bond election
Vote by mail ballots go out this week and ballot drop boxes open Friday. For a list of drop boxes and more information, consult the Pierce County Elections website.
A voting center will also be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Feb. 14 at the Pierce County Elections Center, 2501 S. 35th St., Suite C, Tacoma.
More information: piercecountyelections.org. Via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. By phone: 253-798-8683 or 800-446-4979.