Puyallup’s school crunch goes beyond any class-size mandates

Even if Washington voters approve Initiative 1351, some crowded school districts may not be able to reduce class size.

The Puyallup School District is one of them.

Voters there have repeatedly turned down bond measures to add more classrooms — most recently in 2013, when a $279.6 million proposal was defeated at the polls.

But with continued growth in the suburban district of more than 21,000 students, school officials have continued adding temporary classroom space.

Puyallup has 231 portable classrooms in use now. Superintendent Tim Yeomans said that with the K-3 class size reductions already enacted into law, he’ll need to add 119 more.

“Everyone would like to have more resources and smaller class sizes,” he said. “But it’s important to look at the entire context.”

The initiative offers a solution for districts such as Puyallup. It says districts that can demonstrate that their space crunch prevents them from reducing class sizes would still get the same level of funding set forth in the initiative. But they would have to use the money only for “school-based personnel who provide direct services to students.” Districts could use the money for two-teacher classrooms, teachers aides or others directly involved with students.

The state Office of Financial Management said it’s not known how many districts would apply for this exemption. Nor is it possible to predict what mix of school-based personnel, such as teachers, instructional aides, counselors or principals, would be employed by these districts.