Next Bethel bond on the drawing board

By Pat Jenkins
The Dispatch
Citizens and Bethel School District officials are laying the groundwork for what could be the district’s next appeal for voter support of building new schools.
The Long-Range Facilities Task Force has been holding monthly meetings about where, when and why new schools are needed and how to pay for them. Part of the discussion has centered on available land in Spanaway, Graham and Frederickson.
At the latest meeting in July, the group – comprised of 50 community members, including students’ parents and district personnel–focused on the funding possibilities for what district officials describe as aging and overcrowded facilities.
The next meeting, scheduled for Aug. 17 at 6 p.m. at Cedarcrest Middle School, will be the sixth in a series the task force has held at a different school each time so the public can tour the facilities for a closer look at any shortcomings.
The public’s involvement will be a key to any bond measure the district puts before voters. The work of the task force, which is posted on the district’s website, is building toward recommendations the group is expected to begin finalizing this month and in September and make to the School Board in October. Board members will decide what a bond would include and when it would be put on a ballot. Next year is the earliest a measure might go before voters.
Ultimately, the goal is better results than the district experienced in 2016 with a $236 million ballot measure. Voters rejected it twice.
Bethel officials say the district needs more space for students to keep up with enrollment growth. It’s believed as many as 3,000 more students will enter the district in the next decade. According to the district, surveys have pinpointed overcrowded buildings, school safety and aging facilities as top concerns of the community.
The task force has been asked to study the age and condition of school buildings, prioritize the most urgent needs, and help figure out a long-term approach to managing and solving those needs while the district grows.
An example of preparing for the future is the impact of preschool classes on schools’ capacity and funding. Bethel has more than 500 preschoolers in 36 classes at seven elementary schools. A state mandate requires increases of preschool enrollment by 2021.
A bond measure for upgrading some schools and building two new ones and a swimming pool failed twice last year by flling short of the 60 percent supermajority that's required to pass.
Board members and other supporters of the bond said all of theproposed projects were important enough to keep trying for voter approval. But one– an aquatics center next to Bethel High School that would give high school swim teams a place to compete and practice, and also would be open to the community –was singled out by critics as a primary reason for the bond’s double defeat. The district should cut out any projects that aren’t focused on the most basic needs of education, opponents said.
Besides the swimming pool, the district was asking voters to approve new construction or remodeling of 15 schools in order to provide more classroom space and keep up with rising enrollment.
In the second attempted bond, property owners in the district faced a proposed tax bill of 65 cents (nine cents lower than in the first proposal) per $1,000 of assessed valuation if the bond passed. According to the school district, the financial impact on a home valued at $200,000 would have been $148 a year.
The bond measure requested a 20-year period of annual property tax collections that would add up to the $236-million plus local share of the cost for all the projects, which school district officials estimated at $318.6 million.


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