Purdy Elementary’s enrollment for last school year was 747 students. The school is designed to hold 500. With new development in Gig Harbor North, population growth likely won’t slow down. And while portable school buildings and additions offer a short-term solution, they’re only temporary. That’s why the Peninsula School District Board of Directors chose last week to ask voters for a $50 million levy during the next four years, to build a new school, completely rebuild an outdated one and to make other facility improvements.
The overcrowding example at Purdy is one you’ll hear often for the next three months as supporters push the project. The district has attempted to curb growth by moving out highly-capable students and denying all out-of-district transfers to Purdy. And while that’s halted growth to an extent, enrollment is still considerably higher than the school can accommodate.
Parents have told the school district they are concerned about the safety of their kids. Students are jammed into spaces that are not designed to adequately accommodate them. More students means more distractions, and that makes it more difficult for students to concentrate on what they’re being taught.
Additionally, crowded classrooms create headaches for teachers, who not only are tasked with bringing each student along and tending to each individual’s learning needs, but they also must struggle to simply maintain order in the classroom. If teachers aren’t able to give students the individual attention they need, the students will suffer, and many may fall behind.
We also understand those who will question the timing of the levy. The school district proposed a $78 million bond measure in February 2011, and it fell short of the 60 percent supermajority requirement even though it surpassed a simple majority. Many who will oppose the tax increase this fall — and it would be significant, a 60 percent jump to about $3.75 per $1,000 of assessed property value — will say the district has chosen to run it as a levy because it will only need 50 percent plus one vote to pass.
In the next couple months, the school board will need to answer some tough questions about the levy. Is it necessary? Are there any alternatives? How will every dollar be spent? Can the money be spent more efficiently, more purposefully or more effectively?
Another question is whether or not this is an appropriate time. Some residents already have asked why the district wants to spend additional taxpayer money in the midst of a weak economy and falling property values. Yet school board member Harlan Gallinger countered that when he said falling property values shouldn’t halt growth, they should encourage it. His reasoning: Investing in students is investing in property values.
Parents who may be considering a move typically look at school districts among other amenities. The PSD has a good reputation with great educators and extra-curricular activities. But will parents think twice if they have to send their kids to an overcrowded or broken-down school?
Outside of continuing to encourage them at home, will students get the attention they need during the school day? Will they have access to the latest technology? Because, in our ultra-competitive, hyper-connected world, they can’t afford to fall behind.
If we don’t invest in our schools this fall, we may save some money in the short term, but our community may suffer in the long run.
Population growth likely will continue, and more people will pump money into the local economy. That’s when a majority of taxpayers may agree to help build two new schools.
Yes, we need to invest in education, infrastructure included. For a lot of people, money is tight, and the timing isn’t right.
One this is clear: There is a need for upgrades at Peninsula School District facilities. Is the community willing to spend it now or later?