Nine Pierce County school districts will be asking local voters for money in a Feb. 9 election.
If voters approve, the taxes collected will keep schools running, build new schools or facilities and renovate others.
Ballots and voters’ pamphlets will be mailed to registered voters Thursday (Jan. 21) and Friday (Jan. 22.)
Among the requests are bond measures, which pay for school construction, and levies, which pay for day-to-day school operations.
Levies require a simple majority to pass, but bonds need approval by 60 percent of the voters. Bonds also require a minimum turnout of voters — at least 40 percent of the school district voters who cast ballots in the most recent general state election.
Statewide, school districts rely on what’s known as local operations levies, which make up an estimated 20 percent to 25 percent of their budgets.
While the Legislature grapples with how to meet the demands of the McCleary court decision on school funding by 2018, districts with levies due to expire this year must ask voters to renew them or face losing a chunk of their operating funds.
Districts can choose to run operations levies that last anywhere from one to four years. Most districts choose the multiple-year option because of the effort involved in running a levy campaign.
Carbonado, Clover Park and Peninsula are asking for four-year levies (with tax collection starting in 2017 and running through 2020). Dieringer and Orting are asking for two-year levies, for taxes to be collected in 2017 and 2018.
In the Clover Park School District, levy opponent Betsy Tainer argues in a voters pamphlet statement that the district should ask for a two-year levy instead of a four-year.
“We need a two-year levy request that relieves our tax burden and sets us up to be flexible as the state figures out how they will fund McCleary,” Tainer wrote. “More (state) money is coming. This levy does not account for that.”
She worries that if the current ballot measure is approved, voters will pay twice — once under a reformed state taxing system and again under the locally approved levy.
Proponents say that until the Legislature fully funds education, districts must continue to rely on local levies.
“District administrators and board members have been meeting with state legislators and they have told us that there will be a transition plan to a new funding system when one is finalized,” Clover Park Superintendent Debbie LeBeau said. “We would collect less local levy money if a new state levy plan is approved.”
BETHEL BOND MEASURE
The biggest bond request on the ballot is from the Bethel School District, Pierce County’s third largest district with about 18,000 students.
Bethel proposes a $236.7 million measure, which would be paid for with the sale of bonds that would mature over 20 years.
Approval of the measure would increase taxes by 74 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. The district estimates the owner of a $200,000 home would pay an additional $148 a year.
In addition, the district expects to qualify for nearly $82 million in state construction assistance.
With the money, the district would:
▪ Replace or renovate six schools: Evergreen and Naches Trail elementary schools, Cedarcrest Middle School and Bethel, Challenger and Graham-Kapowsin high schools.
Superintendent Tom Seigel said Bethel High, built in 1952, has experienced flooding because of worn-out plumbing. Electrical systems are worn as well.
The district plans a $95 million project to build new classroom wings, but leave parts of the building that are in reasonable shape — gyms, foyer, theater and library — intact.
Challenger, the district’s alternative school on B Street in Spanaway, is housed in 14 portable buildings, most about 25 years old. Challenger would get a new $26 million building on Pacific Avenue, on the site of the old Spanaway Elementary School.
Graham-Kaposwin, which opened in 2005 with space for 1,400 students, now has an estimated 1,950 students and 18 portable classrooms. The district plans to spend $23 million on a new classroom wing, cafeteria and gym space.
▪ Build a new elementary school on existing land that is part of the Cedarcrest campus, and buy land to support future enrollment growth. The district added 900 students in the last two years, and expects 3,000 more in the next decade.
▪ Update athletic fields at all three comprehensive high schools
▪ Build a $29 million aquatic center for use by Bethel students and the community.
Unlike many modern high schools, none of Bethel’s high schools has a pool. School swim teams travel to practice in Eatonville or Puyallup, or at Pacific Lutheran University. A ballot measure decades ago proposed a pool, but was rejected.
There are no public swimming pools within the school district, and few recreation facilities for kids, Seigel said.
The district envisions a facility where every second- and fifth-grader in the district could learn to swim as part of their physical education classes, where school swim teams could practice and where regional swim competitions would be held in a 10-lane, 50-meter pool.
It also would include recreational features such as a splash pool for young children, a water slide and a “lazy river” ride for public use.
At least one voter believes the pool is a luxury the district can’t afford.
In a letter to the editor published by The News Tribune, John Fife of Spanaway said a pool isn’t needed for education and its cost is too high, especially for those on limited incomes. He’s also concerned that a pool could expose the school district to lawsuits.
Seigel believes that including the pool could be key to passing the bond measure.
“It’s not something frivolous, although some people may look at it that way,” he said.
Teaching kids to swim is a matter of safety, he said, adding that an aquatic center would benefit everyone in the community, whether they have children in school or not.
“This will change the nature of our community and give us a sense of identity,” Seigel says.
SUMNER BOND MEASURE
The Sumner School District, with about 9,000 students, also is growing thanks to new housing developments such as the Tehaleh master planned community.
Officials expect another 2,000 students over the next 10 years, and have proposed a $145.6 million bond measure to help deal with the growth. The district also would qualify for $27.7 million in state construction funding and could use about $6.3 million in impact fees from housing developers.
Bonds sold would be repaid over 20 years. If the measure passes, the district projects a tax rate hike of about 45 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value — an increase of about $90 per year for a $200,000 home.
The proposal would add a new elementary school in the fast-growing southeastern part of the district and an early learning center for preschool and kindergarten students near Sumner Middle School.
“It is a creative way to help those young learners, and also help with elementary enrollment,” district spokeswoman Sarah Gillispie said.
Kindergarten and preschool students from Daffodil Valley and Maple Lawn elementary schools would attend the early learning center.
The district also would replace the 28-year-old Emerald Hills Elementary School, the district’s oldest elementary school. Students would remain on site while a new school is built on adjoining field space.
The bond would contribute to a $61.3 million project to modernize Sumner High School, which was built in 1954, and enlarge common spaces such as the gym, cafeteria and library.
It would expand Mountain View Middle School — the district’s smallest middle school — to accommodate growth.
And it would also contribute to a $14.6 million project to add space to Bonney Lake High School, including a performing arts center.
Also on the Feb. 9 ballot
Carbonado School District: 4-year operations levy plus a $1.75 million bond to modernize and replace portions of the historical school building
White River School District: $98.8 million bond measure to renovate, upgrade and expand building capacity at Glacier Middle School and Elk Ridge, Wilkeson, Mountain Meadow and Foothills elementary schools; construct an athletic stadium at White River High School
Fife School District: Six-year technology levy would raise nearly $1.23 million yearly, starting in 2017.