Jennifer Butler, Gig Harbor
The Peninsula School District is taking an accountable and transparent approach to the replacement school bond. By law, 100 percent of the proposed bond funding will go toward the planning, construction and opening of safe, updated classrooms. The district has over a decade of clean audits from the state, and school bond projects are some of the most highly regulated processes in the state. Bond spending will be subject to annual independent audits, and the bond process will be subject to a citizen oversight committee.
As an architect trained in school design and member of the Facilities Planning Committee, I studied our schools for nine months, along with moe than 100 other community participants.
We toured each school and reviewed detailed building assessments prepared by WSU engineers. They concluded our schools are severely outdated, and our group agreed. We heard from county planners, architects, construction and finance experts. The front-end planning the community and district undertook before proposing this replacement bond was extraordinary.
The school board and district have demonstrated they are wise stewards of our resources. Every single project identified in the 2003 bond was delivered on time and on budget, including three major school renovations and other targeted updates. The District managed this process so well it not only refinanced the bond in 2011, saving taxpayer dollars, but also paid the bond off early.
There have been false claims that voters were misled on past levies and that funds have been illegally diverted away from maintenance. The 2016 ballot measure was clearly labeled the "Continuing Educational Programs and Operations Levy." The voter's guide further stated the funds would be directed into the "... District’s General Fund to pay part of the educational programs and operations support of the District."
The levy funds 24 percent of the district’s entire budget and is being used as promised and to great success. Graduation rates are up, and our district is rated as one of the best in the state.
The recent McCleary funding changes can only be used for costs related to basic education. This means state money will not pay for things like full special education services, counselors, highly capable programs, extracurricular activities, routine maintenance, supplies or hiring security officers.
Districts like ours must still rely on levy dollars to fund these essential programs and services. Our levy money is being spent as outlined in the district’s levy spending plan, and as 70.2 percent of voters approved in 2016. Without this revenue, these vital programs and services will face cuts.
Many are shocked to learn the Peninsula School District has the lowest local school tax rate in Pierce County, at $2.32 per $1,000 assessed value. The next lowest is the Fife School District, at $4.09 per $1,000, a full 76 percent higher.
Even with the passage of this bond, our local school tax rate will still go down. The remainder of the 2003 bond will be paid off next year, and the estimated $0.45 increase per $1,000 assessed value for the proposed bond will be offset by a $0.48 reduction in the existing levy. The result will be a net decrease of $0.03 for a total local school tax rate of $2.29 per $1,000 assessed value.
The proposed $220 million replacement bond will cost taxpayers less per thousand dollars of assessed value than a $50 million capital levy, and the bond will allow us to fund many more vital construction and replacement projects. Anyone with a home mortgage understands the time-value concept of money. For major capital investments, you keep monthly costs down by spreading payments over time.
Most of our schools are more than 30 years old and are in dire need of updates. They have outdated fire safety systems and lack security features to protect against an active threat. The absence of fire sprinklers at Artondale Elementary and Peninsula High School, especially in light of Peninsula’s recent arson fire, should be a wake up call. Our high schools have dozens of unsecured entry points and 25 percent of elementary classrooms are housed in isolated portables. Considering there have already been two separate threat incidents resulting in lockdowns this year, the time to act is now.
Our district has done its due diligence, and our community leaders, civic organizations and individuals are endorsing the bond measure in a broad show of support. This replacement bond is a bona fide win-win: safe, updated schools and lower local school taxes. Our kids are facing a new reality today. School safety and security is not something we can afford to take slow. Vote yes for the replacement school bond!
This is a transcript originally published in the Kitsap Sun on April 9th, 2018