A $237 million Puyallup school bond to relieve overcrowding and enhance school security shouldn’t be a tough sell to voters in the Nov. 5 election, especially if they view it as an essential sequel to what they approved four years ago.
That 2015 measure brought critical growth capacity and safety improvements at the elementary level. The fruits are apparent this fall with the reopening of Firgrove, Northwood and Sunrise schools and the opening of brand new Dessie F. Evans Elementary on South Hill.
The boomlet of young children will soon age and move on, making secondary schools a pinch point for growth. Thus, the Nov. 5 bond is focused on upgrading Puyallup’s three comprehensive high schools and one alternative high school.
The News Tribune Editorial Board supports this sequel. Extra space is imperative in a school district known for rows of portable classrooms — a district that’s projecting enrollment growth of 311 students a year through the 2023-24 school year.
But history shows that passing a school bond in Puyallup is no easy feat; the 2015 measure was the district’s first successful bond in five tries since 2004.
Property owners may take some solace that their tax bills would increase only a modest amount, as the cost of existing bonds is reduced. In 2019, property owners paid $4.31 in total taxes and levies per $1,000 of assessed property value; in 2020, they will pay $4.35 should the bond pass. That means the owner of a home valued at $300,000 would pay an extra $12 a year.
All four Puyallup high schools would get considerable bang for those bucks, including more classrooms and lab space and improved athletic facilities. Campuses would also be redesigned with controlled-access safety features such as connected buildings, single “buzz-in” entrances, surveillance cameras and flashing-light alarms.
Parent campaign volunteer Suzanne Foster told us the district would gain more than 270,000 square feet to accommodate growth, but added: “Safety is parents’ No. 1 concern. School shootings are on their minds.”
Puyallup High School would see the biggest changes if the bond passes; the sprawling downtown campus adjacent to rail tracks would be consolidated into one building, reducing exposure to students at the city’s oldest high school.
But the bond is also at the center of a PHS controversy. A provision in the package would eventually get rid of the PHS swimming pool, which has served Viking athletes and community members since the 1950s.
Students, parents and others lined up at a recent school board meeting to say they felt sideswiped by the plan to replace the high-cost pool with a softball field. Words like “deceptive” and ‘‘underhanded” were tossed around like a ball at a water polo match.
The district intends to compensate for the lost pool by building a regional aquatic center at Rogers High in the next five years, using state funds already in hand. But because the project requires removing portables from the Rogers campus, it hinges on passage of this bond.
Officials say the PHS pool would remain open until the aquatic center is built. But PHS boosters are territorial about their pool, and some aren’t inclined to support a ballot measure that shuts it down. The district has some damage control to do with them.
Puyallup’s Safety, Security and Growth bond is the next logical chapter in securing the well-being of students of all ages.
Yes, it will be unfortunate if the measure falls short of the 60-percent “supermajority” and has to go back to voters next year. Then again, experience has taught Puyallup school leaders all about patience and persistence.