With a 20-year $220 million school bond measure going to voters April 24, Peninsula School District Superintendent Rob Manahan is on a mission: to inform the public how this capital bond measure came to be and why he believes it is vital to act now in order to meet the opportunities and challenges facing the growing district.
“The district’s facilities planning committee, including nearly 115 community members coming and going over nine months, made recommendations to the school board last October,” Manahan said March 1 at a community meeting at Blend Wine Shop in Key Center—one of 70 such meetings he will address between January and Election Day. “We consulted the engineering department from WSU, administrators, teachers and students, in order to assess the overall conditions of each school.”
Manahan said the committee identified needs to update safety and security at decades-old school buildings; replace outdated infrastructure; replace systems and equipment that are no longer cost-effective to maintain and repair; address overcrowding that fails to meet the maximum class size mandated by the state; and update and enhance learning environments to provide the necessary intellectual and vocational skills for students to be successful in today’s world.
“All of our buildings will be over 30 years old by 2023; most of them are 40, 60, or in the case of Peninsula High School, 70 years old,” Manahan said. “People have asked me what we’ve been doing about preventative maintenance, ‘Why don’t you keep your buildings up to par?’
“How many people keep their cars past 300,000 miles?” he said. “After a while that engine just can’t keep going.”
“About $1 million in maintenance goes to Peninsula High School every year, just to keep it up,” said PSD Chief Information Officer Kris Hagel, who also attended the meeting.
“But there is confusion about the ‘maintenance’ of the maintenance and operation levies we have,” he said. “‘Maintenance’ refers to maintenance of our programs more than maintenance of our buildings. So, to maintain a science program that works, you have to provide materials and equipment to keep it up and staff for those positions. That’s what levies pay for.”
The district would also like to build a new elementary school to address overcrowding. “We tried redistricting and it didn’t work; kids keep showing up,” said board President Marcia Harris at the meeting.
“The board is having a discussion and finalizing where (a new elementary school will be). We own 94 acres by the fire station headquarters (on Bujacich Road NW) but that property doesn’t have any infrastructure. There’s a lot of traffic at the other site we own (near the YMCA off Borgen Boulevard), so there are trade-offs.”
“This is the way we fund schools in Washington state,” Manahan said: “Bonds are for building. Levies are for learning.
“With a bond, we are kind of taking out a loan, like you would with a house,” he said. “The interest rate is about 4.4 percent. With the bond, we are asking you to increase your tax rate by 45 cents per thousand more than what we’re currently getting and that additional 45 cents will cover the $220 million and the interest in 20 years, provided it goes that long.”
The last school bond passed by the voters was in 2003 for $45 million and became the foundation for the district’s existing capital budget. “We did everything with that bond we said we were and more,” Manahan said. “That was a 20-year bond as well but that’s going to be paid off in 2019. Plus, we refinanced it twice along the way, so that saved taxpayers dollars in terms of interest.”
Many in the audience expressed concern about the increased tax burden the bond would bring.
“Our M&O levy is $1.98 (per $1,000 of assessed property value),” he said. “When McCleary kicks in at 84 cents, we drop down our levy rate to $1.50. That will offset it a bit, but it’s going to hurt.”
On March 8, after this meeting, the Legislature approved and Governor Jay Inslee later signed a supplemental budget to increase spending on public schools to comply with the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision to fund basic education. Property taxes will be temporarily reduced from $2.70 per $1,000 in assessed value to $2.40 in 2019 for one year. Manahan addressed the tax burden if the bond passes before the new budget was approved.
“I want to be clear about this, because I’ve been accused of lying,” he said. “The total bond is a 79-cent package per thousand. But to you (the taxpayer), it’s an increase of only 45 cents (over the existing bond). We’ll retire the old bond a year after the new one passes, but you won’t be paying both.
“If the average home in the district is $400,000, it will cost you an extra $15 a month,” Manahan said. “Is the value that we get from our schools worth it? You have to make that decision.”