Community chimes in on Peninsula School District bond and levy options

Schools: Three public meetings polled those in attendance on potential ballot measures

of the GatewayJanuary 22, 2014 

Peninsula School District Superintendent Chuck Cuzzetto, right, speaks to school administrators and others in attendance in the Broness Room of the Key Center branch of the Pierce County Library System on Jan. 14. Two other meetings were held to gather input on which of five potential funding options — and when — the school board should present to voters.

HUGH MCMILLAN/SPECIAL TO THE GATEWAY

The Peninsula School District held three public-input meetings last week to gauge interest in several bond and levy options.

The school board is looking to plug holes in the district. The options include, in varying combinations, money for a new school in Gig Harbor North; a remodeled or new Artondale Elementary; past-due upgrades to fields; security improvements at every school; updated technology infrastructure; and, in a new addition, upgrades to the Key Peninsula Middle School campus.

Voters turned down a four-year, $50 million capital levy by a slim margin in November. Now the board has presented five options to the public. It also asked questions about the timing of a new levy, as well as demographics.

The board used an electronic polling system to gather responses. About 70 people attended the final meeting at Goodman Middle School on Thursday. The other two meetings were held outside the PSD buildings at the Cheney Family branch of the Boys & Girls club on Wednesday, and at the Key Center branch of the Pierce County Library System on Jan. 14.

The debate centers around the completion of Phase I in the district’s 30-year capital facilities’ plan, which was developed in 2010. A $78 million bond to build Phase I failed in 2011. The plan provides for updated facilities every eight years in four phases. In today’s dollars, it would add up to $120 million, according to district estimates.

At the Key Center meeting last week, the 37 responders favored Option B — a five-year, $52 million levy that would include the items on the November ballot, as well as an upgrade to KPMS — with 44 percent of the vote.

On Wednesday at the Boys & Girls Club, 38 percent of those who attended favored Option E — a combination of a two one-year, $5 million levies for technology and security, plus a $61.5 million capital bond.

At the final meeting at Goodman Middle School, which included free childcare, 40 percent of responders favored Option B.

The meetings included a time for public input.

Superintendent Chuck Cuzzetto took the microphone out into the audience at Goodman Middle School on Thursday so parents and community members could directly address the board.

Board President Harlan Gallinger said the purpose was for community input, not board direction. Largely, the board stayed silent, unless they were asked for information.

Parent Sarah Christ has a kindergartner at Artondale Elementary and a seventh-grader at Kopachuck Middle School. She said she was sad to see the levy fail.

Christ and her husband moved to Gig Harbor from Ohio about four years ago. She said the property taxes are much lower here, but support for the school system is also much lower.

For Christ, the debate about property taxes isn’t so much about money but about support. She said she wants safer schools.

Randy Boss said he believes the levy options have a nefarious underside. Bonds require a 60 percent supermajority to pass, something Boss thinks the board wanted to avoid with a levy that only required 50 percent of the vote.

“Did you really think that if you hid this capital improvement as a levy instead of as a bond you were going to sneak this by the voters?” he asked the board.

Boss said he felt the presentations and input by the opposition group, Citizens For Responsible School Spending, were not taken into consideration. Rather, he said the board was only looking to convince a few more voters to squeak the levy through.

One thing that troubled Boss is out-of-district transfers taking up space.

Gallinger said his understanding is there are six out-of-district students at Purdy Elementary and a total of 200 out-of-district transfers district-wide, a majority of which are Peninsula High School students.

There’s also a question of when the board should put the measure on the ballot. The earliest it could appear is April, which means it would have to be filed with the Pierce County Auditor’s office in March.

April was the chosen option during the Goodman meeting on Thursday, but that was after a question to the board about the historical data regarding timing. During previous meetings, November was the leading option.

Gallinger thinks it’s not just history that favors April, it’s the public discourse.

Although the funding options and open meetings sprung out of the November defeat, he said the conversation around school need has been running since July.

“We are now on month six of this conversation,” he said. “I feel like these 10 meetings would be for naught the longer we wait.”

Parent Deborah Krishnadasan, who will be a member of the redistricting committee, said a new school is urgent. Redistricting won’t solve problems with overcrowding, she said.

“That’s like telling my kids to clean their rooms — they move stuff around,” she said. “It doesn’t fix it; it’s still a mess.”

The survey of the options is still open at www.psd401.net. The board will meet 6 p.m. Thursday at Goodman Middle School.

Range of options

The Peninsula School District presented five potential funding options to the public during a series of three meetings last week:

 • Option A — Four years, $52.5 million. Project list: New elementary school, new Artondale building, as well as upgrades to security, technology and fields

 • Option B — Five years, $55.9 million. Project list: New elementary school, new Artondale Elementary building, as well as upgrades for security, technology and fields, and Key Peninsula Middle School

 • Option C — Four years, $43.1 million. Project list: New elementary school, remodeled Artondale Elementary, as well as upgrades to security, technology and fields

 • Option D — Five years, $46.5 million. Project list: New elementary school, remodeled Artondale Elementary building, as well as upgrades to security, technology and fields, and Key Peninsula Middle School

 • Option E — Combination of a two-year $10 million levy and a $61.5 million capital bond. They would run as separate measures. Project list for levy: Upgrades to technology, equipment and security, as well as deferred maintenance. Project list for bond: New elementary school, renovate or replace Artondale, mechanical and electrical upgrades throughout district, and upgrades at Key Peninsula Middle School

Source: Peninsula School District

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