Thousands of new students are projected to pour into the Bethel and Sumner school districts in the next 10 years. But those districts are straining to serve the students they already have, sometimes in portables, sometimes in facilities that are old and failing.
Both districts have plans to cope with current crowding and to prepare for children who are on the way. But they need voter support for their Feb. 9 bond issues to implement those plans. Ballots are going out to voters in those districts this weekend, and passage will require a 60 percent approval rate.
Here’s a look at the two bond proposals:
▪ Bethel has the more ambitious measure on the ballot at $236.7 million over 20 years. Its last bond measure passed in 2006, and work it paid for has been completed on time and under budget, says Superintendent Tom Seigel.
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But much more needs to be done to meet the challenge of another 3,000 students expected in the next 10 years in this sprawling, fast-growing district that includes only one incorporated city (tiny Roy). The district proposes to fix or replace crowded, aging schools and make important security, safety and technology upgrades.
The biggest-ticket items are the modernization and partial replacement of Bethel High School at $95 million (with $33.4 million of the cost paid by the state) and building a new elementary school adjacent to a modernized Cedarcrest Middle School. That will cost $84 million (with the state paying $26 million).
If there’s any controversy in Bethel’s proposal, it is the plan to build a $29 million aquatic center (the state would pay $10.5 million of it). But Seigel points out that it wouldn’t just be a school facility, it would also benefit the entire community. The district has no pool for student swim teams. Indeed, there’s not a single publicly accessible pool in the area served by Bethel schools.
Some might argue that providing a pool should be Pierce County’s responsibility. Perhaps so, but Seigel reports that the county has been approached and isn’t interested. The aquatic center would fill an important gap in the unincorporated county.
If passed, the bond would raise the property tax on a $200,000 home by an estimated $148 a year.
▪ Sumner schools are also expecting an influx of students — more than 2,000 within the next decade. If voters approve the district's $145.6 million, 20-year bond measure, it will be better prepared to educate them.
The centerpiece of Sumner's capital facilities plan is construction of an early learning center for preschoolers and kindergartners, allowing the district to relieve pressure on Daffodil Valley and Maple Lawn elementary schools.
In addition, the district would build a new elementary, replace Emerald Hills Elementary, expand and update Sumner High School, expand Bonney Lake High School and Mountain View Middle School, and make security and safety improvements districtwide. The state would contribute $27.7 million in matching funds.
The bond would cost the owner of a $200,000 home an estimated $90 a year in additional property tax, which the district claims will still be among the lowest in the state.
Both bonds are sound investments in children and community and deserve support. Returning ballots is important as both measures depend on minimum turnout numbers for validation.