Get ballots in for Tacoma, Puyallup schools

The News TribuneFebruary 11, 2013 

For supporters of public schools in Tacoma and Puyallup, this is not a day for complacency.

Both school districts have critically urgent construction bonds on Tuesday’s ballot. Tacoma is trying to replace or renovate 14 worn-out schools, half dating to the 1920s or earlier. Puyallup is trying to expand or repair 11 schools, and move students out of its 220 portables, to ease overcrowding and handle rapidly rising enrollments.

Each measure would also pay for improvements across the district.

These bonds – $500 million for Tacoma, $279.6 million for Puyallup – are of utmost importance to public education in the two districts. Tacoma voters, for example, haven’t approved school bonds since 2001. A district with so many antiquated schools just can’t do its job without regular reinvestment.

A story in Thursday’s Seattle Times should correct any misconceptions that Puyallup or Tacoma are on a spending binge. It contrasted Seattle’s $695 million school funding plan with the Tacoma and Puyallup versions:

Measures on Tuesday’s ballot in Seattle and Tacoma would each fund dozens of construction projects over the next decade, with both districts focusing on rebuilding old elementary schools.

But while Tacoma officials are requesting about $30 million for each of the eight elementaries in their proposal, Seattle is seeking about $42 million apiece for the six it wants to build.

Compared with Seattle, Puyallup and Tacoma have relatively modest expectations. Consider building size.

A school ideally would have 125 square feet per student, according to the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s Office.

Seattle’s new schools would far exceed this, with 140 square feet for every child. Tacoma, in contrast, is planning 118 square feet per child; Puyallup, 99 square feet. That’s one of the ways you build an elementary for $30 million instead of $42 million.

Neither Tacoma nor Puyallup will get any more classroom space, of course, unless Tuesday’s bond measures pass. This will require not only approval by a 60 percent supermajority, but also voter turnout at least 40 percent as high as the last general election’s – a big presidential election, in this case.

Tacoma needs a total of at least 35,733 votes to validate its measure. By the end of the day Friday, 24,607 ballots had been returned to the county auditor’s office. Puyallup needs 22,696 votes to validate; 17,581 ballots had arrived by late Friday.

These elections are likely to be close. Tacoma and Puyallup school supporters shouldn’t just vote; they should persuade a friend to dig out that ballot from between the seat cushions and send it in.

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