The Peninsula School District Board of Directors voted unanimously on Wednesday morning to include a Capital Projects Levy on the November ballot. The board held a special 7 a.m. meeting at the Peninsula School District Office in Gig Harbor to hear public testimony and vote on the levy.
The levy has a $50 million price tag, which would include a new elementary school in north Gig Harbor, and a complete rebuild of Artondale Elementary School. The new schools would cost $22.5 million each. The additional $5 million of the proposed levy would be used for various improvements in the district. The estimated tax increase would be $1.40 per assessed $1,000. School board member Harlan Gallinger, who presented a PowerPoint at the meeting, said the north Gig Harbor area needs another elementary school.
“This explosive growth in Gig Harbor north has really taken off, it's growing like crazy,” Gallinger said. “Most of the growth is in the Purdy Elementary school district—it puts a lot of pressure on that school.”
Purdy Elementary School is designed for about 500 students, but enrollment for the 2012-13 school year was 747. The district has attempted to counter the growth by moving out highly-capable students and denying all out-of-district transfers, but enrollment is still substantially higher than the intended capacity. Parents have complained about the overcrowding.
“If we look at all of the other schools, some of the different numbers in other schools are like 350 (students), we're way up here at 700,” said Kelly Fisk, a Gig Harbor parent. “It is a safety concern, and there are also anxiety concerns. Parents aren't encouraged to attend any of the assemblies. Parents are skipping them because it's just too much.”
Artondale Elementary does not have overcrowding concerns, but is suffering from building deterioration and infrastructure issues. The board has identified Artondale as the district facility with the most pressing need for replacement. Concerned parent Lisa Anderson said the time for waiting is over.
“I've seen Artondale and the state of its decay for a long time,” she said. “When we say, 'let's wait,' well, my kids don't have the chance to wait. The floor tiling is coming up. It's a hazard. It's a frightening place to send my children. The parking lot is horrendous. We're losing families to private schools.”
The board considered putting the levy on the February, which would give the board more time to put together a thorough campaign, but ultimately decided the levy needed to be put on the November ballot.
“We heard loudly from parents that we need to do something now,” Gallinger said. “If we do November, it allows us to start construction one year earlier. Growth in Gig Harbor north is accelerating faster than forecasts. We need to be ready for that. It will save taxpayers $100,000 for costs associated with a special election—this would buy about 200 iPads for our students.”
The district is pushing the levy after a $78 million bond was rejected by voters in 2011. Bonds require a supermajority vote of 60 percent to pass, while levies only require a simple 50 percent majority.
Some community members are concerned that the board is switching to a levy simply because it will be easier to pass.
“I fear that you're running it as a levy to get past the supermajority requirement of a bond,” said community member Jerry Gibbs. “Instead of taking on the hard issues that would bring in that additional 5 percent, you decided to run this as a levy because it only requires 50 percent.”
Multiple people were concerned about the timing of the levy, saying that spending increases should not come in the midst of a weak economy.
“I think we all recognize that we're gonna need new schools and there's a need for improvement,” said community member Greg Baltmiskis. “I think the timing is bad. We may not qualify under technical recession, but we're still in one. There's close to 200 foreclosed homes for sale in Gig Harbor. Property values have gone down and property taxes have remained the same.”
Gallinger said falling property values should encourage investment in schools and infrastructure, not deter it.
“Investing in your students is investing in your property values,” Gallinger said. “We should be telling to people to live in Gig Harbor. When the word starts getting out that we're not taking care of our schools, that's sending a message to people that we don't care about our community. I agree that the economy is rough. I can't assure you in 10 years it will be different, but I can promise you in 10 years from now, our kids will be in worse shape if we do nothing.”
Board member Rick Jones voiced his support for the levy.
“These are definite needs,” Jones said. “It has to be about what's best for the kids. We start with them. Gig Harbor north—absolutely. Purdy is crazy up there. Artondale—that need is huge. That building is in horrible shape. My kids are at Gig Harbor High School, but it affects me as a citizen. We need it for the community. It helps our kids, our community, and property values.”
Reporter Jon Manley can be reached at 253-358-4151 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @gateway_jon.