The needs identified by Pierce County’s lowest-income school district are plenty: eight old and outdated elementary schools, five of which need to be rebuilt, a crumbling middle school gym, safety and security concerns in all schools, and overcrowded cafeterias.
This fall, voters in the Franklin Pierce School District are being sent an SOS in the form of a $157 million bond measure. The 20-year bond would cost taxpayers in the Parkland-Midland area $2.82 per $1,000 dollars of property value.
But thanks to precision timing, the “No Tax Increase” promise is legit.
The request comes just as two older capital measures — a 20-year, 1998 bond and a five-year capital levy from 2012 — will be paid off. Opponents would have to get really creative coming up with reasons to vote it down.
The bond campaign, called “8,000 reasons to vote,” serves as a reminder that there are 8,000 young people hanging in the balance and just as many reasons to be proud of this diverse district’s performance.
In spite of serious demographic and economic challenges, Franklin Pierce school district has made some impressive progress in recent years. Seventy-five percent of Franklin Pierce students receive free or reduced lunch, a number that tends to correlate with poor educational outcomes, and yet the district has put itself on the map when it comes to closing achievement gaps for students of color.
In 2015, graduation rates for Native Americans, African Americans, and Latino students met or beat state averages.
Three elementary schools, Brookdale, Christensen and Central Avenue Elementary, received the 2015 Washington Achievement Award.
And Franklin Pierce High School was ranked by U.S. News and World Report as among the 60 best high schools in the state for preparing kids for college and careers.
Not bad for a district with a high school once described as a “dropout factory.”
District Superintendent Frank Hewins told the News Tribune Editorial Board “our kids deserve to have nice facilities,” and he’s right. They’ve waited long enough.
The last time voters here saw a bond measure was 2008, and it failed. This year, Hewins says failure is not an option; the district’s best hope to draw large enough turnout is on a presidential election ballot.
This is hardly a rush job. Hewins gathered parents, staff, students and community members six years ago and created a long-range planning committee. It met 13 times and worked methodically to identify core structural needs — no frills.
The average age of Franklin Pierce schools is 60 years, or as Hewins says: “They were built before the invention of the ballpoint pen.”
The bond requires a 60 percent supermajority to pass. If it succeeds, students will get a new performing arts center, science, technology, engineering and math labs, new bleachers and modern digital readerboards. All schools will receive security upgrades.
Franklin Pierce community leaders have taken their time doing the hard work of making clear that their students — all 8,000 of them — are a worthy investment. It’s hoped that voters will agree.
Auburn School District, Proposition 1
As a certain presidential candidate might say, the number looks huge. Voters in the Auburn School District are being asked to approve Proposition 1, a $456 million general obligation bond with a maximum term of 20 years.
The bond would be used to construct and equip two new elementary schools, and rebuild two middle schools and four elementary schools.
Auburn’s school district bridges Pierce and King counties; it’s estimated that by 2021, nearly 1 in 5 of students there will have arrived in the past 10 years.
If voters pass Prop. 1, and we recommend they do, the growing school district would be better equipped to accommodate increasing enrollment and routine requests for smaller class sizes.
Two community groups met over an eight-year period developing the project. They, along with the elected school board, believe safety and infrastructure improvements are long overdue.
The bond needs a supermajority of 60 percent; it would then be matched with $79 million in state matching funds. For the average homeowner, property tax would go up a $1.03 per $1,000 assessed property value. Call it growing pains for an expanding district.