The next step in school district bonding is left to the residents

A ballot measure for the Peninsula School District’s $220 million bond has been approved by the Peninsula Board of Directors, leaving only campaigning left before the vote on April 24.

At the Feb. 9 regular meeting, the directors voted unanimously to approve a bond resolution which states the $220 million sought by the district will be used to support capital projects such as full updating existing school buildings and building a new elementary school.

The ballot measure does not include wording on the potential tax increase if the bond passes. Superintendent Rob Manahan said that the measure does not require a proposed tax rate, since the tax rate could fluctuate.

“It’s only an estimated tax rate,” Manahan said. “It could change. It’s also not a set tax rate but a tax rate increase, meaning this will add to the current tax rate in the Peninsula School District.”

The estimated tax rate increase if the $220 million bond passes is $45 per $100,000 taxable value of a home. The current tax rate in the district is $32 per $100,000 taxable home value. If the bond passes with a super majority in April, the new tax rate will potentially increase to $77 per $100,000 of taxable home value.

The increase in taxes will cover the costs of construction in a long cycle of updates needed in the large district. Some of the promised projects include;

  • $75 million for modernization and some rebuilding at Artondale Elementary and Peninsula High School.
  • $38 million for modernization and some rehabilitation to existing classrooms and facilities at Key Peninsula Middle School. This will include additions to science classrooms.
  • $16 million for system upgrades and efficiency upgrades, which will fix HVAC systems and replace roofs at Discovery Elementary, Evergreen Elementary, Harbor Heights Elementary, Minter Creek Elementary, Purdy Elementary, Vaughn Elementary, Voyager Elementary, Key Peninsula Middle School, Kopachuck Middle School, Goodman Middle School, Harbor Ridge Middle School, Gig Harbor High School and Henderson Bay High School.
  • $8 million for safety and accessibility upgrades given to every school in the district.
  • $42 million for modernizing individual classrooms at Gig Harbor High School, Kopachuck Elementary School, Discovery Elementary and Minter Creek Elementary.
  • $40 million for a new elementary school aimed at easing overcrowding.
  • The bus barn and transportation facilities within the district will see upgrades if the district can receive state matching funds.

Director David Olson said that when the district is campaigning for a levy the ballot resolution must include a hard proposed tax rate.

“But in a bond it lasts for 20 years,” Olson said. “And depending on the national tax rates and economy, we could potential resell the bonds at a later date and save the district money.”

In the past the school district has refinanced bonds from 2003, which then saved the district millions, Olson said.

“We’re expecting to have a resolution approved and the explanatory statements done by Feb. 23,” Olson said. “So residents will have a full month to see what this proposal means to them.”

One of the most anticipated projects the bond will pay for is a new elementary school, which will help with increase growth and overcrowding in the aging school buildings. The question still to be answered is where the new elementary school will be placed.

There are two locations that are the potential sites for a new school. The first is on school district property in Gig Harbor North. Neighboring residents near the site have been expecting a new elementary school to be built there for years and are hoping to finally see that happen with this bond. The site boasts walkability, easy transportation and plenty of space for the new school.

The second site would be closer to the Key Peninsula and is 15 acres that includes partial wetland located on Bujacich Road near McCormick Woods Park. The area is currently being used as a dog park. Those who support building a school in this area say it’s a matter of equity among students in the district, since children living on the Key Peninsula suffer not only an income gap compared to students in Gig Harbor, but longer drives to facilities.

Olson said the school district has not made a final decision on where to place the potential new school, and will not make a final decision until some more impact and growth studies have been completed. But the district leaders seem to be leaning towards the Gig Harbor North location.

During Monday’s Gig Harbor City Council meeting Manahan was questioned by city leaders where they should expect to see a new elementary school.

“We have been looking into traffic and land studies,” Manahan said. “But we are leaning towards the (Gig Harbor North) location.”

Olson has been a supporter of the Gig Harbor North location, saying the location near the Key Peninsula is not suitable for construction due to wetlands and is uncomfortably close to the Washington Correction Center for Women.

“I think building in Gig Harbor North makes sense,” Olson said. “I am speaking as a private person though and not for the whole board.”

Although the board members are not allowed to campaign for or against the bond in their official capacity, they are allowed to educate residents on the bond resolution.

“I have a long list of meetings set up for the next couple months,” Manahan said. “I will be talking to different groups around the city to answer questions and explain what the bond will cover.”

The district is now leaving it up to the residents to decide, the bond will need over 60 percent of the vote to pass in April.

Danielle Chastaine: 253-358-4155, @gateway_danie