In 1853, a wagon train of settlers crossed the Cascade Mountains through Naches Pass and decided to call the Sumner Valley home.
If you attended Sumner School District’s latest hearing over changing the district’s name, you might say the same moxie that drove those first settlers over the mountains still runs strong.
Wanting to keep with tradition, many Sumner parents and alums are now passionately against the idea of changing the district’s name to the Sumner-Bonney Lake School District. They want no part of the new-fangled hyphenated name.
It’s no surprise that community sentiment would lean toward preserving the 125 year-old district, but ultimately, names should honor accuracy over legacy. The reality is that the majority of the district’s students and schools are now in Bonney Lake. The name should reflect that.
Nearly twice as many of the district’s families live in Bonney Lake as in Sumner. Operating facilities, including the Transportation and Child Nutrition offices, are also in Bonney Lake because that’s the axis of the district these days.
We agree with Rick Hendricks, the Sumner School Board member who said: “The city of Bonney Lake has been a big factor of the district, and I think they deserve a little recognition for it.”
Besides, it’s not like they’re pushing for the cities to be listed in alphabetical order, right?
The argument seems to be adding fuel to a quietly simmering feud. It’s as if the established Sumner community resents the suburban newbies up on the plateau with their granite countertops, outdoor pizza ovens and commuter traffic rolling north to King County.
For some, even the perks that come with growing communities like Bonney Lake are no match for five generations of Sumner graduates. As one Facebook critic explained, “Bonney Lake wasn’t even a dot on the map until I moved to California ten years ago.”
That dot is now enjoying an eclipse. Bonney Lake’s estimated 20,000 residents make it the fifth-largest city in Pierce County, according to the state’s official 2016 population figures, while Sumner is ninth-largest with about half its neighbor’s headcount.
The school district perimeter has grown beyond Sumner and even Bonney Lake to include parts of Edgewood and the unincorporated county. From humble beginnings, the district now serves more than 9,000 students.
The numbers reflect progress and should be a point of pride. Thirteen schools, a family support center, a district athletic complex and a performing arts center came about only through a collective process involving two communities — and the collection of taxes from both. It’s too bad the name change proposal has become a wedge issue.
Spending 100 grand on a name change may seem frivolous, but it would be phased in over time. Signs and bus decals would be replaced slowly during the normal cycle of repair and replacement.
For some, the opposition comes down to a perceived loss of identity and a resistance to rebranding. The North Thurston School District went through a similar period of introspection last year and decided not to switch its name to Lacey.
Though it may take some doing to win hearts and minds, Sumner’s history need not be erased, merely incorporated. For example, there’s no reason the district couldn’t hold fast to the old logo with its 1891 founding date proudly displayed.
If this relationship were a marriage, it would be common law. In practice, they’re already raising their kids together and are in it for the long haul. All that’s needed now is to make it official.