Measure for schools coming this August

January 29, 2014 

When the Peninsula School District’s proposition for a four-year, $50 million capital levy failed last November, it was clear the need for improvements wouldn’t go away. Now we know the district will try again for some sort of public funding mechanism this summer.

The need still exists to address overcrowding issues at the elementary school level, as well as building and field maintenance. And the PSD’s board of directors still wants to rebuild or upgrade Artondale Elementary and to build a new elementary school in Gig Harbor North.

That’s just the bare bones.

There’s an increasing need to address ever-changing technology issues, and the district also wants to upgrade safety and security systems in response to community surveys that list those concerns near the top of the list.

First, though, the school board must address the reality that this is a tough environment in which to pass new-revenue measures, and it’s an even more difficult sell when many property owners are still struggling in the sluggish economy or are on fixed incomes that could present additional hardships if a large tax increase were to pass.

One way to increase support would be to address the Citizens for Responsible School Spending, led by Ken Manning and Jerry Gibbs. The group recently polled its own set of voters to ask why they voted no last November. They returned a 16-point survey that detailed their top responses, and they included suggestions on how to deal with growth as well as expenditures.

Why did they vote no?

According to the survey, which was presented to the board and also sent to the Gateway, some felt the school board lacked transparency and public notice when it voted last summer to move forward with a November ballot measure.

Some said the district has yet to prove the need for a new school.

Others didn’t appreciate the fact that the school district spent more than $4 million on land in Gig Harbor North before voters got a chance to approve a new school there.

Many thought the capital request should have come in the form of a long-term bond rather than a short-term levy, because the tax rate would be more expensive.

One of the group’s suggestions is to change district boundaries to shift some elementary students to different schools, and the school board is in the beginning stages of doing just that. About 70 people have applied to be on a committee that will study the issue, and Superintendent Chuck Cuzzetto expects new boundaries to be in place for the 2015-16 academic year.

The board jumped into immediate action when the levy failed two months ago. Along with redistricting, they’ve held a series of special meetings — on school property and off — to take public input on as many as five different funding mechanisms.

Last week, they narrowed the choices to two, and they’ve targeted the August primary election — a full seven months of notice with plenty of time for the public vetting process.

Those who say the board is out of touch or reluctant to change — another of the reasons cited by the Citizens for Responsible School Spending group — aren’t paying attention themselves. The board’s response since the November failure is significant, but it’s also something it has done for years, particularly during the priority-setting and budgeting processes.

The nice thing about it is we’re seeing conversation between both sides. And if reasonable minds can meet in the middle, we see no reason why there can’t be support from all sides of the community.

Still, voters would need a 60 percent supermajority to pass a bond and 50 percent to pass a levy. And, as the past couple attempts have shown, that hasn’t been an easy task.

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