A group of Gig Harbor residents have filed as the official opposition against the Peninsula School District ballot measure for a $220-million bond that would be used to help build new infrastructure in the district.
Ken Manning, Dan White and Randy Boss formed the group,Responsible Taxation of Citizens and will have a statement placed in the official April voter pamphlet.
“We are the founding members,” White said. “There’s no membership, like a club or anything, but the three of us have been working on this for awhile and we have been recognized as the official opposite view. We just want to let others know there is another group out there that has a different point of view.”
On Feb. 26, the group sent a press release stating what they see are issues with the district’s proposed bond and the press release claimed that firms who have donated to the pro-bond group, Stand Up for Peninsula Schools, are getting preference to work on projects within the district if the bond passes.
The Peninsula School District Board of Directors proposed the $220-million bond as a solution to overcrowding, lack of resources, crumbling infrastructure and more. Although the school district has a high rate of success when it comes to graduation and education, the state of the district’s buildings have left parents and educators concerned.
The bond will be presented on the April 24 ballot to all voters in the 120-square-mile district. The district estimated that about $400 million was actually needed to bring the infrastructure up-to-date and keep it maintained for the next couple of decades.
Projects the bond will cover 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.
District Superintendent Rob Manahan said the board chose to go with a smaller bond amount rather than the full $400 million because it believed it would be received better by voters.
“We have $400 million of work that needs to be done,” Manahan said. “We will use the $220 million but we are planning for inflation. A lot of it is about the community response and what they can afford. We don’t want to out-cost our community’s resources. We are trying to be sensitive to that.”
Manahan said the district chose $220 million after lengthy discussions with engineers and architects, including some from Washington State University.
Responsible Taxation of Citizens skeptical on district’s choices
White said he has been involved with the bond process since it began over a year ago, but he is still skeptical about the district’s choices.
“We don’t dispute that the schools need a lot of work,” White said. “We were shocked when the board approved the amount of $220 million that they don’t need over the next six years. The board has no history of managing such a large amount of money. We would like the money approved incrementally by the voters. Our proposal is $50 million, but that’s negotiable, then come back to the voters with some results and come back for another chunk of money.”
In its press release, the Responsible Taxation of Citizens proposed a four-year, $50-million capital levy, saying a levy would not cost any interest. The group makes a few claims about the district’s bond plan, including:
- Only 15 percent of over $200 million in maintenance and operations levies from the past years went towards maintenance of school buildings. Responsible Taxation of Citizens says the next levy of $20 million should go towards maintenance because the McCleary decision “will fund teachers’ salaries.”
- The bond ballot measure provides for “six years of spending and 23 years of paying,” by incurring $132 million in interest charges. The press release said only one-third of the $220 million will be needed in the first two years.
According to Karen Andersen, chief financial operator for the school district, past maintenance and operations levies were not set to be used for building maintenance, but rather maintenance of the district’s education programming.
The McCleary decision, a ruling from the Washington Supreme Court which said the state of Washington had to “fully-fund schools” according to Article IX of the Washington Constitution, is set to place more funding towards basic education in the next year or so. Manahan and Andersen said “basic education” is still being defined but most likely won’t include funding for extracurricular or enrichment classes and activities.
“Basically our levy will become an enrichment levy,” Andersen said.
Andersen said Responsible Taxation of Citizens is correct about the amount of interest that will need to be paid back if the bond passes. The district is planning to raise the district’s tax rate to $79 per $100,000 taxable home value. If the bond passes, the plan is to sell the first group of bonds in 2018, which will incur the tax rate in 2019.
“We then will wait a year, sell another group of bonds in 2020 and then again in 2022,” Andersen said. “That way we can stagger the funding.”
Andersen said the idea to levy for a smaller amount, like the proposed $50 million from Responsible Taxation of Citizens, would mean raising the tax rate even higher. Levies are funded purely through taxes, Andersen said, so even though there is no interest added to levies all the money comes from taxpayers and cannot be used by the district until it is collected. This means a four-year, $50 million levy would take four years before the district could start just one project. Projects that need to be addressed as soon as possible would then be waiting in an endless, four-year cycle.
White also said Greene-Gasaway Architects were named by Manahan as the project managers for construction projects if the bond passes.
“In prior bond issues, the biggest donors were builders who wanted a piece of the bond,” White said. “$220 million is an enormous amount of money. We are really concerned. Some of the most substantial donations are from people who are either being considered from those jobs, or we were told by the superintendent are the project managers.”
According to the Public Disclosure Commission, Greene-Gasaway Architects were among the top 45 donors to Stand Up for Peninsula Schools.
Stand Up for Peninsula Schools, which is a grassroots political organization that is separate from the school district, has received $41,466 in contributions. Over $28,500 of those contributions were from individuals. According to the Public Disclosure Commission, Greene-Gasaway Architects donated $1,000 in February. Owners of the company, Jeff Greene and Calvin Gasaway, also donated $125 each to Stand Up for Peninsula Schools. Calvin Gasaway’s wife, Darlene, also donated $125, totaling $1,375 from those involved with Greene-Gasaway Architects.
Two of my three grandchildren live in the district. So I’d be contributing anyways as a grandparent to (Stand Up for Peninsula Schools). We’ve done a few little projects for the district over the last several years. We assisted with their planning efforts. We are doing some pre-planning work in continuation of that. We’ll help them write some of the state documents to get state-matching funds.
Jeff Greene, co-owner of Greene-Gasaway Architects
Manahan said Greene-Gasaway has not been determined as the project managers for any future, substantial projects the bond may fund.
“We have to do competitive bidding for all of our major architects and construction firms,” Manahan said. “We have used Greene-Gasaway for a long time as project managers and they are currently our project managers for some sites on project we are doing currently. I don’t know who’s donated to who. I don’t have that information.”
Manahan said Greene-Gasaway Architects is on the district’s short-list of individuals that will be used for small projects if the bond succeeds.
“If a project has a substantial cost we are required to project bid,” Manahan said. “So we are going to be working with them on some projects but on others we have to bid.”
Manahan is not a member of Stand Up for Peninsula Schools, but some members of the board of directors are.
Deb Krishnadasan is co-founder of Stand Up for Peninsula Schools and a long-standing member of the Peninsula School Board of Directors.
“We’ve always had school board members as a part of the “yes” groups,” Krishnadasan said. “And we’ve had many groups and businesses come to support us.”
Krishnadasan said she is not in charge of the financials or bookkeeping for Stand Up for Peninsula Schools. When she is campaigning for the group, she said she represents herself as a parent and community member, not a member of the school board. She declined to answer questions in regards to board decisions, as she was representing Stand Up for Peninsula Schools in this interview.
“State funding does not pay for facilities,” Krishnadasan said. “We are here for creating safe and secure schools.”
Krishnadasan said board members usually don’t get to make the decision about what businesses make the “short-list” that Manahan referred to.
Jeff Greene, co-owner of Greene-Gasaway, said the company’s donations and his individual donations to SUP are not unusual and are not a way to buy preference with the district.
“We donate to almost every group in support of bonds and levies,” Greene said. “And we don’t always get chosen for those projects. We support schools.”
Greene and Calvin Gasaway opened their architecture firm in 1984 and are based in Federal Way. The company has 13 employees. Greene lives within the Peninsula School District and his children graduated from the local high schools.
“Two of my three grandchildren live in the district,” Greene said. “So I’d be contributing anyways as a grandparent to (Stand Up for Peninsula Schools). We’ve done a few little projects for the district over the last several years. We assisted with their planning efforts. We are doing some pre-planning work in continuation of that. We’ll help them write some of the state documents to get state-matching funds.”
The school district will need a super-majority of the vote, over 60 percent, for the $220-million bond to succeed. The district is allowed a neutral and fact-based statement in the official voter pamphlet, and Stand Up for Peninsula Schools and Responsible Taxation of Citizens are allowed one statement in the pamphlet too.