Voters in the Puyallup School District will be asked this fall to approve a $292.5 million bond measure that district officials tout as a way to relieve elementary school overcrowding and reduce the need for portable classrooms.
The school board Monday night unanimously approved placing the bond package on the Nov. 3 general election ballot. It would pay for five projects, including a new 44-classroom elementary school on South Hill, at 144th Street East and 80th Avenue East.
Firgrove, Northwood and Sunrise elementary schools would be replaced with larger 30-classroom schools, while Pope Elementary School would be enlarged to a 44-classroom school.
The five projects would boost the district’s elementary student capacity by more than 2,700. The schools would be able to accommodate full-day kindergarten classes and special education preschools, and each of the five sites would gain a science classroom, according to district plans.
The bond measure would increase property taxes by about two cents per $1,000 of assessed value, district officials said. That would cost the owner of a home valued at $250,000 an estimated $5 more per year.
Puyallup voters have turned down school bond measures four times over the past decade.
Superintendent Tim Yeomans said the district now is in a position to raise the bond money at a “modest cost” to taxpayers.
He said that’s because last year, Puyallup voters passed a $46 million, six-year capital levy designed to address major maintenance needs, such as new roofs and windows, as well as technology upgrades.
“Because of the timing of the bond measure, we would be able to not collect $34 million of that capital projects levy, and finance that in a bond over the term of 21 years,” Yeomans said.
The tradeoff is a tax rate that would increase by pennies, but over a 15-year-longer payoff period.
The district began collecting taxes on the capital levy this year and began some of the improvement projects. Officials estimate that by the November election, $7 million will have been collected from last year’s money measure.
The district plans to use that money and continue collecting $1 million per year for the remaining five years of the capital levy to spend on technology improvements. Officials say it doesn’t make financial sense to stretch payments for items such as computers over two decades.
Shortly before Monday night’s vote, the board held the second of two public hearings on the bond proposal. There was no public comment.
What’s driving the bond request is student enrollment growth that district officials believe will surge in the next five years.
Puyallup is Pierce County’s second-largest school district, with more than 22,250 students. Officials project an additional 1,600 students will arrive in Puyallup schools by 2020. Most of that growth — 1,050 children – is expected at the elementary level.
“If we don’t pass the bond, it’s going to create more urgent needs that will impact our whole community,” board member Kathy Yang said.
She and others predict that district might have to consider double-shifting or year-round school to accommodate all the expected elementary students.
The board has already approved a phased-in temporary shift of some sixth-graders to junior highs. Students at Zeiger Elementary School will be the first to make the move this fall; they will move to Ballou Junior High School.
Board member Chris Ihrig said Monday’s board vote was “dependent on the community coming together and locking arms.” He said he’s looking forward to conversations with voters about the bond over the summer.
The last time Puyallup voters approved a bond measure to pay for new schools was in 2004.
Money from that bond paid for construction of Glacier View Junior High, Carson and Edgerton elementary schools, replacement of Kalles and Aylen junior highs, and renovations at several other schools.