The Peninsula School Board voted unanimously Nov. 8 to place a $198,550,000 bond measure on the Feb. 12, 2019, special election ballot. The approval of the plan followed nearly a month of consideration by board members of a capital project proposal presented to them Oct. 11 by Interim Superintendent Arthur O. Jarvis.
The Nov. 8 meeting agenda called for comments from student representatives and the community prior to board discussion of the capital proposal.
Comments also came from school district personnel as members of the Public School Employees of Washington including clerical, para-educators, bus drivers, maintenance and custodial staff regarding livable wages. In total over an hour of statements were delivered to the school board and an audience numbering in the hundreds at Goodman Middle School.
What did people have to say to PSD board of directors?
Bryce Wilson of Gig Harbor, the spouse of a teacher in a portable at Harbor Heights Elementary School and the parent of a child at Artondale Elementary, urged the board to place a capital facilities measure on the ballot as soon as possible.
“This is a facility crisis. There is no better way. This board must go forward,” Wilson said.
Ken Manning of Gig Harbor said, “We are disappointed to say the least. This is basically the same bond proposal that failed earlier this year.”
Manning is the treasurer for the political action committee Responsible Taxation of Citizens (RTC), a group whose members have opposed all PSD funding proposals for over a decade.
Manning said the RTC agrees facilities are suffering and that the group supports a proposal that does not send up to one-third of local school tax dollars “to bond holders on Wall Street” and gives voters accountability using short term levies.
“This board could have used that McCleary (decision) $21 million settlement money to repair worn-out facilities and address some of the worst needs, but instead $7.3 million went to teachers’ salaries,” Manning said. “So far we don’t know where the rest of the money is going. We could look at the McCleary fund as sort of a miniature bond that passed. Will the board walk their talk? Will any of these dollars make it to the facilities?”
Jacy Griffin, a STEAM teacher at Discovery Elementary and a parent with her youngest at Harbor Ridge and two oldest at Peninsula High, said, “It was absolutely problematic that the portables were not done by the start of our school year. It was absolutely problematic that our play area was significantly reduced due to the portables being there. It’s problematic to try and teach computer science and not have a set space.”
Griffin takes a “science cart” into classrooms where the technology is not uniform and frequently doesn’t work, she said. “And I’m supposed to be teaching them cutting-edge curriculum?”
What is the Interim Superintendent’s Proposal?
PSD Board President Marcia Harris thanked the public for their comments and proceeded to the first new item of business: Capital Projects Proposal for review, approval and consent. Jarvis provided a brief overview of the proposal.
“Incoming enrollment projections for fall 2019 translated to needing an additional 10 classrooms in the fall,” he said. “Even with a passage of the measure, we are incredibly out of space and there is not more space to place more portables.”
“The proposal does two things,” he said. “It builds two new elementary schools to provide us with the number of classrooms to prepare us for the onslaught that is already underway (and) it takes two of our oldest schools, Evergreen and Artondale, and replaces them.”
“Why a bond issue and not a levy?” Jarvis asked. “I’ve had a long career doing capital projects and I’ve used capital levies multiple times. To use a capital levy to address the same amount of work would place a staggering tax burden on current taxpayers to try to do that work in a four or six year levy.”
“The answer is to use the mechanism that school districts use throughout the state of Washington and that is the bonding mechanism,” he said. “It allows us to do the work now without increasing the costs to do it. A capital levy would delay the work that needs to be done because of the cash flow.
“Two people who came to me have recommended a maximum of $50 million capital levies instead. We, as a community, are simply too far behind to take that kind of approach,” Jarvis said.
“The tax rate is estimated to be 79 cents (per thousand), which is less than even the capital levy people proposed at $1.13 per thousand,” he said.
Board member David Olson said the proposal presents a dire situation. “It’s unfortunate that certain members of this audience sort of accused this board of allowing our school district to be in this current state, considering it’s been in the process (of happening) over 20 years. I think this board has shown clearly that we care about this district and want to provide it with school facilities.”
“Regarding the funding mechanism, we received a written proposal from the Responsible Taxation of Citizens with a levy proposal of $102 million,” Board member Deborah Krishnadasan said. “This same group, ironically, fought back in 2013 on a levy; they said ‘no, shame on you board, for using a levy.’ Now that we are moving forward with a responsible bond, like they asked us to, now they’re saying, ‘no, do a levy.’ ”
“A levy is asking all of us to pay for a school today that the community will use 30 and 50 years down the road. By spreading the cost with a bond, people moving to our community will share in that cost,” Krishnadasan said. “We should not foot the bill for the people who aren’t here yet.”