Thurston County voters should support the well-planned and much-needed bond and levy measures that five public school districts have put on the Feb. 11 special election ballot.
Like almost everyone else in the public and private sectors, schools delayed necessary expenditures to renovate and upgrade their buildings during the Great Recession. The money just wasn’t available.
But aging facilities have now reached the point where three districts — Tenino, Tumwater and North Thurston — are putting bond measures on the ballot to update and replace aging facilities. The measures all address health, safety and security concerns for students and staff.
Two districts — Olympia and Griffin — are running levies. Griffin is seeking to replace its maintenance and operation levy that expires next year, which voters approved in 2012. Olympia is replacing its technology and safety levy that expires in 2014.
It’s important to note that bonds are for buildings and levies are for learning. Without school levies, school districts would be forced to cut programs that diminish the quality of our students’ education.
Neither the Griffin nor the Olympia replacement levy would increase property taxes beyond existing levels.
At $175 million, the North Thurston School District bond measure is the largest on this ballot. The size of the bond reflects the district’s extraordinary student population growth and the degree to which North Thurston’s schools are lagging acceptable standards.
Nearly 1,500 new students have entered North Thurston schools since 2005, an 8 percent increase. To accommodate them and complete its 6-8 grade level transition, the district needs to build a brand new middle school in the fast-growing Hawks Prairie area and replace more than 50 deteriorating district-wide portable classrooms.
In addition, North Thurston would modernize five other schools, replace deteriorating roofs, upgrade heating and plumbing systems, and more in other schools. It would make seismic and structural upgrades to make students safer during an earthquake.
The bond would also enable the district to install panic alarms and automatic door locks and create secure entries, a necessary response to the increasing number of school shootings across the country. These safety features should persuade any parent to vote in favor of the North Thurston bond measure.
The North Thurston measure would increase taxes by about $44 per year on a $200,000 home. But the district would still maintain one of the lower tax rates in the county.
The Tumwater School District is seeking $136 million to replace the Peter G. Schmidt and Littlerock elementary schools that are nearly 60 years old. Two other schools would be remodeled and expanded with new science classrooms and gymnasiums.
The Tenino School District needs $38 million to upgrade two facilities that were built in the mid-1970s and have never been significantly remodeled. The small district plans to spend these funds wisely, expanding one elementary and one middle school and reconfiguring them with larger classrooms to enhance student learning.
The district also desperately needs a second high school gymnasium – its current gym was built in 1968. Modern athletic facilities will provide a safer environment and resources for students.
We like the district’s plan to upgrade its technology for students and create a performing arts room for more musical education opportunities.
These remain tough times for everyone — school districts and property tax-paying citizens. But there’s no better investment than ensuring the best possible education environment and opportunities for our students.
We urge you to register to vote, and we recommend a “yes” vote for all five school funding measures.