For years, school districts, stakeholders and lawmakers have been working diligently to reform the outdated Growth Management Act (GMA) and its restraints on where new schools are developed.
Lawmakers kept their promise and found a solution during the 2017 legislative session. We reached a bipartisan compromise for a more flexible, less costly school siting option. Our efforts paid off with House Bill 1017, which passed the House 81-15 and the Senate 37-11.
It seemed natural that Gov. Jay Inslee would follow in our footsteps and sign the fix into law. But to our astonishment, he vetoed most of the bill, to the detriment of school districts statewide that were anticipating much needed expansion relief.
I am thrilled the Bethel School District, which lies in the 2nd Legislative District that I represent, was not affected because Pierce County was excluded from the veto. Bethel owns 80 acres about a mile outside of Pierce’s urban growth boundary.
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Because of GMA restraints, the district hasn’t been able to build a new high school on land it owns. It tried to find space within the boundary, but there wasn’t any available. All that’s changed thanks to HB1017.
Bethel Superintendent Tom Seigel calls it a “huge step forward” that will enable the suburban district to accommodate an estimated 3,000 students over the next decade.
What is good enough for Bethel should be good enough for all Washington school districts. The Washington State School Directors’ Association estimates 28 of the state’s 295 districts face similar expansion barriers, and the number will only increase.
The state population is booming, but school districts are coming up short on finding space suitable to build more schools. If schools could be developed within the urban growth boundaries, they would. But, in a lot of cases, they can’t.
If the governor hadn’t partially vetoed our bill, all districts would’ve been granted the same flexibility afforded to Bethel and could plan for expansion.
It’s no secret the Legislature’s paramount duty is to fully fund basic education. Yet Inslee senselessly vetoed a bipartisan bill that puts students first. This isn’t the “One Washington” we hear him constantly talking about.
There were 38 other Washington counties looking at the governor to do the right thing. Instead, he put the outdated GMA ahead of school districts and kids.
“The veto put the governor’s stand of putting children first in danger,” said my colleague and prime sponsor of the bill, Rep. Bob McCaslin, R-Spokane Valley. “Schools around the state won’t be able to modernize and students will remain in portable units.”
Clearly, the governor needs to rethink his priorities.
He has offered a justification for his veto. He wants to prevent rural growth by limiting the size, scale and reach of utilities brought out to new school sites.
Our efforts continue to reform the GMA. So, the question remains:What happens when the law does change and economic growth is eventually allowed in rural areas? If you limit utilities only to a school now, additional utility infrastructure will need to be placed later. This will come at a cost to the county, and the taxpayer.
This is a prime example of inefficiency in government.
Our bill passed both chambers with strong bipartisan support, which could be enough to establish an override to the governor’s veto. Our priorities are clear, and I will lead the call to reverse this egregious decision.
Our students can’t wait any longer. House Bill 1017 is the right solution.
Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia, represents the 2nd Legislative District, including parts of Pierce County.