The Peninsula School District’s capital levy, which would build two new elementary schools, has three other goals — technology, security and field upgrades.
The four-year, $50 million Proposition 1 would spend $45 million on the two schools, and $5 million would be split three ways if the levy passes with a simple majority on Nov. 5. Technology goals would have $2 million in funding, security would have $1 million, and $2 million would go to field upgrades.
School board member Harlan Gallinger sees the levy as a “meet in the middle” package. It would bring in money for many different priorities, rather than submitting many levies and bonds to voters.
“We just want a safe, technology-enhanced education space for our students,” Gallinger said.
That’s what the $5 million in the levy aims to achieve.
In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings last December, security became an issue at the forefront of parents’ minds. Peninsula School District parents met with the school board last winter to talk about security.
Jerry Gibbs, a leader of the levy opposition group, Citizens for Responsible School Spending, wonders why not much has changed since then. He said he visited Purdy Elementary School, the only school that currently has a buzzer lock, and he wasn’t buzzed in.
“If school safety is such a high priority ... why haven’t they done anything to enhance the security of the schools already?” Gibbs questioned.
Home security is cost effective, he said, so he’s asked why there haven’t been small measures after parents requested action. He sees the security money in the levy bundle as a “scare tactic” to rope in voters.
Gallinger is aware of community worries. He knows it’s something parents want to see the district prioritize.
A problem for school security is the long response time for emergency personnel in the spread-out district. If an event were to occur, the remote location of some schools could be problematic.
“Geography constrains us,” Gallinger said.
The levy dollars would roll out an upgrade that would include buzzer locks and security cameras at front entrances. There’s also discussion of backdoor keycard access.
District presentations say the levy also would fund badge printers and card readers. The funds would be spread out, but implementation would start at the elementary schools.
Gallinger said a problem is students in portables come in and out of the school buildings to use the bathrooms. The levy would lead to immediate action to secure schools and would be implemented in the spring.
Technology is central to the constantly changing world of education. The last technology buy came in a 2003 bond, Gallinger said. That makes those computers 10 years old. As teacher computers are replaced, he said, the old devices are passed to students.
The only new devices in the schools have been purchased by parents because the district operates on a bring-your-own-device system.
Updates are an immediate need, Gallinger said, because elementary schools don’t have the infrastructure for the statewide, web-based Smarter Balance test. The levy would give $500,000 per year to upgrade the school’s network and buy devices for every two to three students, he said.
The priority needs can be completed in about 18 months, if the levy is passed.
Gibbs said he agrees technology spending is important, but he said the levy is not the way to do it. He knows updates are a top priority, but he wants to see the district “go back to the drawing board,” develop plan that remedies old technology and overcrowding, and then come back to voters with a bond.
“There’s too many parts of this plan that are upside down,” he said.
Finally, field upgrades are included in the levy. Updates to Roy Anderson Field’s turf is due. A replacement would cost $700,000, part of the $1 million in the levy.
“We don’t have $700,000 lying around,” Gallinger said.
After that chunk of the upgrade, $1.3 million would be left. It would be used to match money from the state and grants in order to update fields around the district, Gallinger said. An example would be the conversion of grass fields to turf, which is less susceptible to damage in bad weather, he said.
The field at Peninsula High School is the only competitive space for football and other sports. If it gets too bad, it can’t be used. Damage to the turf brings a risk of injuries, and it would have to be closed and games moved, Gallinger said.
Local sports clubs — Harbor Soccer Club, West Narrows Soccer, Peninsula Athletic Association, Peninsula Youth Football and Harbor Fire Lacrosse — are on board with the upgrades, Gallinger said. The items in the levy are there because it is a top priority for the sports communities. The spending plan was determined in conjunction with those groups, he said.
Gibbs sees the field slice of the levy’s pie as another scare tactic, similar to the security money. It’s a way to “throw a bone” to the sports community and bring in votes.
Gibbs said the field upgrades are needed, but he argued the levy is not the way to go about it. Money from taxpayers should go to learning, he said.
Along with rebuilding Artondale Elementary and building a new school in Gig Harbor North, Gallinger said the package is about giving the community more with less.
“We’re trying to keep this simple for voters,” he said. “Five things.”Reporter Karen Miller can be reached at 253-358-4155 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.