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Schools should be part of discussion when it comes to planning for new development

First day of school at Purdy Elementary

Teachers, parents and students of Purdy Elementary in Gig Harbor arrive for the first day of the 2018-19 school year in the Peninsula School District.
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Teachers, parents and students of Purdy Elementary in Gig Harbor arrive for the first day of the 2018-19 school year in the Peninsula School District.

Our school infrastructure in Pierce County is struggling to keep up with the pace at which our community is growing. The inability for school bonds to pass with a supermajority vote (60 percent) is contributing to a crisis for our schools that needs to be addressed immediately… and you can help!

Washington’s Growth Management Act (GMA), requires local governments to “ensure that those public facilities and services necessary to support development shall be adequate to serve the development at the time the development is available for occupancy and use without decreasing current service levels below locally established minimum standards.”

We refer to this requirement as concurrency.

If a development would push roads, sewer or water infrastructure beyond its capacity, we must have in place a plan to accommodate its impacts within six years, or the project cannot be approved. It’s why you sometimes see developers make improvements to public infrastructure near their project.

It also helps inform where we direct our capital investments. Unfortunately, in school districts like Bethel or Peninsula, school construction has not been happening, they have been unable to pass a school bond, and their communities continue to grow rapidly. Consequently, these districts and others rely on a massive number of portables, struggling to find locations to place more. Science and art are taught from a cart rather than a classroom. School districts like Bethel are also forced to consider other approaches to education such as classroom double shifting and year-round school — both of which create disruption and have high costs.

Your voice is needed for this important discussion!

Over the next two months, there is a comprehensive plan amendment being reviewed by the land-use advisory committees and Planning Commission to strengthen policies requiring school facilities to be present in response to growth. The amendment would allow school districts to ask the county to require schools be provided within six years of the residential development. This amendment does not create a new burden for school districts but would require the county to work more closely to plan for growth and add a new level of scrutiny to protect the interests of our children.

Please go to www.piercecountywa.gov/luac to find out where there is a meeting so you can offer your support or send a comment for the record.

We must act now and make sure our schools are able to provide the most basic infrastructure for our children.

Derek Young is a member of the Pierce County Council representing District 7, which includes Gig Harbor, Key Peninsula, Fox Island, McNeil Island, Town of Ruston, West Tacoma and North Tacoma.
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