After months of campaigns, tours, meetings and public outreach, the Peninsula School District’s $220-million bond proposal was looking to be denied by peninsula voters April 24.
The $220-million bond needed a supermajority to pass, which is 60 percent plus one of the votes. A small percentage of votes were left to be counted as 19,166 ballots had been returned in the 47 precincts. The official results will not be certified until early May. Community members, school board directors, district employees and members of Stand Up for Peninsula Schools all met to watch the numbers roll in after the polls closed Tuesday.
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Markee Coffee was packed wall-to-wall, as Stand up for Peninsula School members drank wine, beer and watched the results.
“It doesn’t matter at this point about the vote,” Jennifer Butler, co-chair of the organization. “Because what we are going to do going forward is the same. Today marks the beginning of a community that is more aware and more engaged in our schools than ever before.”
The crowd’s lively conversation and music stopped when the ballots came in. The bond is failing as of Tuesday night by less than two percent of the vote. The yes vote received 58.44 percent of the vote (10,785 votes) and the no vote received 41.56 percent (7,670), with 40.59 percent of the ballots returned.
Many school district board members and staff said they will keep up some hope the votes would swing with the last counted ballots, but the consensus felt it was a moot point.
“It's frustrating,” Peninsula High School Principal David Goodwin said. “I’m just really disappointed because I feel like so much hard work has gone into this. Obviously some people are just not seeing it, and I don’t know what more to do.”
Peninsula High School would have been one of the schools that received some of the most needed help if the bond measure passed.
“I think (getting a majority) validates all the hard work we put in,” Goodwin said. “But having to get a supermajority is really tough.”
Pierce County councilmember Derek Young was vocal about his support for the bond during the campaign and was a part of the watch party at Markee.
“The need is so clear and the fact that we need to get a supermajority is frustrating,” Young said.
Young said he is interested in seeing state legislation that will change the ruling. In the past, other bond and levy measures in the Peninsula School District have failed by only a one- or two-percent margin.
“When you are in support of the bond you are engaged in the truth. Unfortunately those on the other side were not,” Young said. “There is no reason for the (supermajority rule), it’s anti-democratic. The legislature needs to do something, because if they are going to require bonds to fund our school but then require more than a majority to pass anything, that’s insane.”
Dan White, one of the founders of the opposition group Responsible Taxation of Citizens, said the group is carefully optimistic about the results. He said the group now plans to present a $50 million levy proposal to the board of directors at Thursday's meeting.
"I think the voters of this area are really smart," White said. "The district spent an unneeded amount on the campaign. They bought Facebook ads, I was told we need new HVAC systems. If we had spent the money they had we would have gotten more votes."
White said the Responsible Taxation of Citizens group also wants to see the schools fixed in the near future and hopes the district will work with them on levy measures.
"It's our extension of an olive branch," White said.
David Olson, a member of Stand Up for Peninsula Schools and the school district Board of Directors, said he wants to see the district take a week or two to breathe and then come back fighting.
“The opposition said they would be in favor of a levy, even though they voted against one five years ago,” Olson said. “Maybe we can work with them and see if we can get a levy passed. We will decide in a few weeks what the next steps are.”
About a year ago, a group of school staff, parents and community leaders were brought together by the district to create a facilities planning committee. The committee’s job was to find what needed to be fixed and updated within the district. The group toured buildings, talked to contractors, assessed data and concluded Peninsula School District needed more than $600 million for repairs, updates and more. Just over $95 million of those estimated costs would go toward preventative maintenance, which includes:
- Upgrades to interior and exterior finishes.
- Health, safety and security upgrades. Mechanical and electrical improvements.
- Upgrades in technology and infrastructure.
- Provide improvements that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- Expanding cafeteria and commons areas.
- Site improvements such as fire suppression measures.
- New roofs, paint and HVAC systems.
The bond election will likely be discussed at the upcoming Peninsula School District Board of Directors meeting on Thursday (April 26).