The Puyallup School Board voted Monday to forge ahead with a plan that no board member likes: Begin moving some sixth graders to junior high schools next fall.
But to relieve overcrowding at elementary schools, they said they had no choice.
The unanimous decision was made after a series of community forums and months of debate.
Moving sixth-graders into the same buildings as seventh- through ninth-grade students will be a temporary step, district officials promise. And the district plans to review its decision annually in light of actual growth numbers.
But officials also say much depends on whether voters agree to tax themselves for future school construction. The last time Puyallup voters approved a school bond measure was 11 years ago.
“This is a big step, and it’s the first step in hopefully getting our students’ housing in order,” said board President Pat Donovan.
Some families have urged the district to find a better way than moving sixth-graders to a school with older students. Donovan said he understands parents’ concerns.
“I have no doubt that the staffs at each school will do everything they can to make students feel welcome,” he said.
He said there are many aspects of the plan, including transportation, that still need to be completed.
Sixth-graders at Zeiger Elementary, in the high-growth South Hill area, will be the first to make the move. They will shift to Ballou Junior High this fall.
Other planned moves include:
The school district, already the second-largest in Pierce County, expects to grow by at least 1,600 students in the next five years, with most growth projected at the elementary level.
The school board has asked a citizens committee working on a bond proposal to accelerate its work and prepare for a Nov. 3 bond measure vote.
A bond advisory committee is scheduled to offer a recommendation for consideration by the board on March 16. The board hopes to decide on a bond package in April.
But officials say that even if voters approve, time is needed to design schools and obtain building permits. They estimate that relief in the form of sufficient classroom space won’t come until the 2019-20 school year.
Critics say previous bond failures in Puyallup are the result of bad planning and faulty projections by the district, which closed its smallest elementary school in 2009 due to budget cuts.
Superintendent Tim Yeomans says the district has done exhaustive public planning for the past decade, but that bond packages have still failed to win the necessary 60 percent yes vote.
“For economic reasons, and because of other challenges, they haven’t met with support in the form of a supermajority,” Yeomans said.
Two years ago, 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.