Puyallup School District sees looming crisis in school overcrowding

Puyallup School Board members took a fresh look at an old subject Wednesday: the growing suburban School District’s perennial space crunch.

Pierce County’s second-largest district is already home to 231 portable classrooms. At a study session, board members grappled with how to avoid adding more or, if they must be added, where to put them.

Calculations from district staff show that two elementary schools, Woodland and Zeiger, will each need to make room for more than two classrooms’ worth of students by next fall. Officials predict continued growth at both schools over the following four years as well.

By the 2019-20 school year, they say the needs at Woodland will cumulatively add up to at least eight more classrooms, and at Zeiger, at least nine more.

They also foresee growth pressure rising over the next five years at several other elementaries, most pressingly at Edgerton, Firgrove, Fruitland, Hunt, Northwood, Pope, Ridgecrest, Shaw Road, Stewart and Sunrise.

Puyallup voters have rejected new school construction bonds in recent years. In February 2013, they turned down a $279.6 million measure that would have eliminated what was then roughly one-third of the district's portable classrooms, added capacity at several schools and built a new elementary school. (Just over 55 percent of voters said “yes” to that proposal, but bond measures need a 60-percent supermajority to pass.)

Bond measures also failed in 2007 and 2009.

Puyallup Superintendent Tim Yeomans said after the failure of last year’s measure that it was clear that not enough voters understood the urgency of the district's request. Board members got a closer look at that urgency Wednesday.

Board President Chris Ihrig said that without passage of a bond, space projections could look even worse. And if a bond passes, it would still take several years to collect the taxes and get a new elementary school built.

Yeomans called a bond a necessity within the next five years, and he said that doesn’t include the impacts of Initiative 1351, the statewide measure on November’s ballot to reduce class size. Most recent vote counts show it is passing.

“The urgency is quite real,” Yeomans said.

Ihrig said there may not be one solution to all the space issues, but he said the board must try to find multiple solutions that will be sustainable. Board members looked at a few ideas on Wednesday. Among them:

• Moving some sixth-graders to the district’s junior high schools

• Restricting enrollment at the most crowded schools to students who live in that school’s attendance area. Puyallup students from elsewhere in the district, as well as students from outside Puyallup, would be told there’s no room for them.

• Redrawing attendance area boundaries.

Board members appeared reluctant to consider more drastic options, such as double-shifting or year-round school — options they fear could spark an exodus from the district.

District staff plan to work out several scenarios, including the financial impacts of each, and bring information back to the board for further consideration. The earliest Puyallup could realistically place a measure on the ballot would be November 2015.

“By January, we will need some direction on where to go,” Yeomans said.