After 13 years of unsuccessful bond elections, Bethel School District leaders were left in shock when the initial ballot counts on Election Day showed the proposed bond passing with over 65 percent of the vote.

"I came in expecting to see the numbers at about 50 or so percent and to watch them slowly go up hopefully," Bethel School District spokesman Douglas Boyle said. "When I saw where the vote was initially I was flabbergasted." 

As of 3:30 p.m. on Feb. 19, the $443 million construct bond was passing with 66.12 percent of the vote, or 15,906 votes. The final ballot count will be released by the Pierce County Elections Office on Feb. 22. 

The Bethel School District had not passed a successful bond since 2006. For the past 13 years the district, which covers over 200 square miles on East Pierce County including some parts of Eatonville, has seen a large rise in enrollment but a lack of funding for classroom space, curriculum and growth. 

The district has 27 schools but no main government support, like a city, Boyle said. 

"We had to run this bond five times," Boyle said. "It's hard to communicate with everyone. There is no major city or newspaper in our area so it's hard to reach folks and let them know why this is important."

Because of the ongoing failure to pass a funding measure, Bethel School District recently joined other districts to lead the charge on legislation that would remove the supermajority requirement for bond passage. In Washington, districts only need a simple majority, over 50 percent, to pass levies but a supermajority, over 60 percent, to pass bonds. 

"Last time we were just 307 votes shy," Boyle said. "In 2006 our bond passed by just 200 votes."

This bond will help create three new schools; elementary school No. 18, elementary school No. 19 and a new Bethel High School. It will also add classroom and more space to the district's other schools. 

The current Bethel High School will receive a new roof and other updates and then will be used as a temporary space for schools undergoing construction updates, such as Challenger High School and Kaposowin Elementary School. 

The district started some of the planning and permitting process ahead of the successful election. The permitting process to build a new school takes three years along, Boyle said, so the district is hoping to finalize the bond by the end of February so it can quickly begin the next phase in planning. 

Boyle said local news coverage may have helped boost the bond votes, but the real appreciation belongs to the parents and teachers who spent countless volunteer hours communicating with voters. 

"The district can only do so much," he said. "But the school community took the information and ran with it." 

Parent Teacher Association members spent time going door-to-door talking with voters and some local Bethel High School students even created a 10-minute documentary discussing the challenges they face in aging school buildings and crowded classrooms. 

"The superintendent talked with some residents who admitted they were historically no-votes but then saw the video and changed their mind," Boyle said. 

While the ballots continue to be county, school administrators are celebrating a long, long run to the finish line. 

"We are still shocked," Boyle said.