Some things do not improve with age, and schools are among them.
Voters in two East Pierce County school districts, Orting and Dieringer, now have a chance to display their smarts by approving school bonds focused on alleviating overcrowding.
The Feb. 14 ballot is not one that busy, election-weary voters can risk ignoring. Participation must equal 40 percent of the ballots cast in last November’s general election — a high validation hurdle in the wake of the epic Trump-Clinton presidential showdown.
The choice for voters in the Orting and Dieringer communities comes down to two simple options: continue squeezing kids into jam-packed schools or accommodate them by funding expansion and infrastructure improvements.
The effects of overcrowding on the learning environment should not be underestimated. Students crammed in classrooms receive less attention, distractibility increases, and the strain on teachers and students becomes a recipe for a tense environment.
This is why Washington voters passed Initiative 1351, the 2014 measure that mandated smaller class sizes at all grade levels. The public decided it wanted teachers educating students, not supervising them, which is what happens when classes get too big.
Budget cuts later forced legislators to rein in the measure so that smaller class sizes are limited to kindergarten through third grade, identified by research as a crucial time for individualized and focused attention.
The Orting and Dieringer school bonds both properly respond to that mandate.
Orting’s Ptarmigan Ridge Elementary School was built for 200 students; it now has more than 500 eager learners running through its halls daily.
A new 62,000 square foot school should do away with the need for portable classrooms, and the new cafeteria would mean PE classes could be scheduled inside the school’s single multipurpose room.
If the $41 million dollar capital bond is approved, the new tax rate would be $1.14 per $1,000 of assessed property value. For the owners of a $200,000 home, this translates to about $19 a month. The rate will drop significantly in 2023 when the district pays off the bond.
Orting is hopeful that engagement with the community via an online tool called Thought Exchange, in addition to the several face-to-face meetings with the community, will result in getting voters to mail in their ballots by Valentine’s Day.
The Dieringer School District covers about 5.5 square miles and only has three schools. Each uses every bit of available space.
Lake Tapps Elementary School needs three new classrooms; Dieringer Elementary needs a new roof, an HVAC system, and a new secure entrance. North Tapps Middle School needs maintenance and security upgrades as well.
And because over 60 percent of the 1,500 Dieringer students transfer to Sumner High School, state law requires Dieringer absorb a portion of Sumner’s construction costs.
With a yes vote, the bond would add 23 cents per $1,000 property valuation through 2022, making the total bond rate about $2.47 per $1,000. Owners of a $200,000 home, could expect to pay less than $4 more a month.
The $9.5 million bond request could be a matter of life or death for Dieringer. If voters reject it, or not enough turn in ballots, the district that began in a borrowed shed 126 years ago could disband. (Voters might another chance to vote for the bond in April.)
Voting no on these bond measures will not stop these two communities from growing. Housing developments will still go up. Overcrowding will continue.
Both districts want voters to see the bond requests for what they are: a solid investment in students, especially the youngest, most impressionable kids.