The Eatonville School District is asking voters to approve a bond measure for the first time since 2006.
It’s one of two Pierce County school districts seeking bond money in an April 26 election. The other is Bethel.
Ballots will be mailed to voters Thursday.
The nearly $19.5 million Eatonville measure would pay to upgrade athletic fields at Eatonville High School and Eatonville Middle School, including a new grandstand at the high school.
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It also would pay for new technology, new spaces for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education and safety measures such as better radios for bus drivers who transport students in remote areas of the district.
The county online voters’ guide lists the estimated tax rate for the measure at $1.24 per $1,000 of property value, but Superintendent Krestin Bahr said the figure was based on an early calculation. She said the district intends to collect $1.20 per $1,000, and that’s the rate it’s been advertising in talks with the community.
$15 millionAmount of bond money to be spent on athletic fields and facilities
The biggest portion of the bond package — $15 million — would pay for athletic facilities improvements.
While the 2006 bond money remodeled Eatonville High, officials left out improvements to the field and grandstand at the district’s only high school.
“It would have just been too much,” said Corrine Lucas, a parent and substitute teacher who chairs the bond committee. “The community didn’t feel ready to redo all the fields at that time.”
The high school stadium was built in 1937, when baseball was the dominant sport, Bahr said. When football gained prominence, it left the grandstand perched on the football field’s 30-yard-line, while restrooms have the prime 50-yard-line position.
Construction of a new grandstand would fix that problem, Bahr said. It also would increase seating to 1,500 from 700, and make the facility more accessible for wheelchair users and others.
Water use is another factor in the upgrade.
The school district is the top user of Eatonville water from the Mashel River, Bahr said. Much of that is used to water athletic fields during dry months.
Converting the fields at both the high school and the middle school to a synthetic turf would reduce water use in the summer and keep the fields usable during the wet winter.
It also would allow Eatonville to host championship games, which it can’t do now because athletic authorities require synthetic turf.
However, Bahr said, the school board wants to avoid one common synthetic field surface — crumb rubber — because of health concerns. Crumb rubber is made of ground-up used tires.
Although the athletic turf industry says the material is safe, critics around the country have raised concerns about health risks from crumb rubber sports fields.
The concerns are prompted in part by a University of Washington soccer coach who documented cases of young athletes with cancer, and speculated the illnesses could be connected to crumb rubber fields.
The federal government announced earlier this year that it would study the issue.
Bahr said the school district would look at alternative surfaces made from coconut husks or rice.
“It will be more expensive,” she said. “But we would rather be safe than sorry. This was a concern of this community.”
We are so data hungry in our schools
Corrine Lucas, head of the bond committee
The district also wants to spend an estimated $2.4 million of the bond money to buy technology devices for all students and improve Internet connectivity at schools.
Lucas said there’s a need for more wi-fi points in every school.
“We are so data-hungry in our schools,” she said.
While the district won’t be able to address every problem at every school because of limitations from cable companies and others, it’s trying to fix what it can, she added.
Eatonville also wants to launch a pilot project to put wi-fi connections on school buses, so students could do homework or take online courses during lengthy bus rides.
Bahr said the program is being tested at other schools around the country.
Some students in the sprawling district near Mount Rainier travel 60 to 90 minutes by school bus each way. One bus trip is 58 miles one way.
Wi-fi on buses would allow those students to upload homework to a location such as Google documents, and be finished with homework before they arrive home.
Bahr said the district has included the technology money in this bond, rather than asking voters for a separate technology levy, as some districts have done.
“When we don’t have those things, it is inequitable for our kids,” she said. “To have the tools in their hands — it’s a social justice issue.”
The discrepancy between the tax rate quoted in the voter’s guide and the actual rate the district now estimates could cause some voter confusion, but the district hopes people will understand such figures are estimates and often change.
The higher rate in the explanatory statement was based on a more conservative scenario that projected higher interest rates for bond sales, said Cynthia Weed, the attorney with K&L Gates, which worked with the Eatonville district to prepare statements for the voters’ guide.
Regardless, the official ballot title — what voters either approve or reject — lists only the total dollar amount of $19,480,015.
That’s typical for school tax measures, and it entitles the school district to collect whatever it takes — regardless of fluctuations in interest rates or property value — to pay the debt on bonds sold to generate the nearly $19.5 million.
“You can never promise the rate,” Weed said. “The rate will be whatever it takes to pay the debt service. Interest rates go up and down. It’s always just an estimate. We were using a preliminary, more conservative interest rate.”
Eatonville bond by the numbers
Amount: Just over $19.48 million
Estimated additional tax rate per $1,000 of property value: District’s current estimate is $1.20; earlier estimate published in voters guide is $1.24
Length of time for payoff: 25 years
Added tax on a $200,000 home: $240 a year at the lower rate; $248 at the higher rate
More information: http://www.eatonvillestrong.org/
SOURCE: Eatonville School District