Bethel schools will put $443 mllion bond before voters

By Pat Jenkins
The Dispatch
Before this winter is over, voters in the Bethel School District will be asked to approve a $443 million bond that is $200 million higher than one they rejected last year.
The measure the School Board has decided to put on next February’s ballot would pay for building a new high school and two new elementary schools, major makeovers of two existing high schools, and improvements or expansions of 10 other schools.
District officials said the projects, which were recommended by a community task force, would alleviate overcrowding of schools and help facilities keep up with future enrollment growth.
In addition to the bond, the district will also have two levies on the February ballot. Their revenue from tax assessments would pay for technology and other educational needs that officials said aren’t funded by the state.
District officials concede that three funding proposals on the same ballot is a lot to ask of taxpayers, but they say it’s necessary because of what they call “a very unique time.” Recent changes in state law have produced a “more equitable funding model” for school districts statewide, with the state now collecting a tax to fund education, Bethel officials said. But they said that tax will be much lower than the amount Bethel could collect in its previous maintenance and operations levies. And it’s expected that local school taxes will go down for Bethel starting in 2019, even if the local levies and the bond are approved by voters.
The financial factors will be important, given the size of Bethel’s current requests and what happened the last time the district asked voters to approve a bond. That one, for $236 million, was rejected twice in 2016. Each time, it failed to get the 60 percent supermajority that’s required under state law for bonds to pass.
Included in last year’s bond proposal was a swimming pool complex – supporters called it an aquatics center – that was singled out by some voters as unnecessary and at least part of the reason they voted against the overall measure. The pool isn’t part of the new bond now facing voters.
Here’s what is included in the upcoming bond:
• Three brand new schools -- a high school at 224th Street East and 70th Avenue East and two elementary schools on land near Naches Trail Elementary School and a site to be determined.
• New buildings to replace the modular structures currently used by Challenger High School.
• Modernization and/or expansion of five schools --  Bethel High School, Cedarcrest Middle School, Elk Plain School of Choice (which houses grades kindergarten through eight), Evergreen Elementary School, and Naches Trail.
• New heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems for Camas Prairie, Centennial, Graham and Rocky Ridge elementary schools.
• Pedestrian-safety improvements at Bethel and Spanaway Lake high schools and Evergreen.
• Improved traffic circulation at Camas Prairie.
• Upgraded kitchens at Bethel Middle School and Roy Elementary School.
• Synthetic turf for football and soccer fields at Graham-Kapowsin and Spanaway Lake high schools.
• Improvements districtwide in school security cameras and energy efficiency, including lighting.
The greater dollar value of the current bond and last year’s proposal is due in part to the call for brand new schools. “The new high school alone would cost $139 million, and the elementary schools together would cost about $100 million,” said Doug Boyles, a school district spokesman.
Those amounts are part of the local share of the overall bond’s cost of $570 million. The bond, if approved, would generate $443 million in property tax revenue as the local contribution. The difference between bond revenue and the total cost would be made up by $127 million Bethel would receive in state assistance.
District officials note that all dollar amounts so far are estimates.
Projects that are part of the new bond were authorized this month by the School Board at the recommendation of the district-appointed, community-led Long Range Facilities Task Force. In public meetings held over a span of several months, the group considered school building capacity and overcrowding as top concerns, both currently and in years to come.
The district has about 18,000 students and is growing. The 27 schools the district has today draw students from an area of 202 square miles and are running out of room for more, district officials said.
Graham, Spanaway, Roy and Kapowsin are communities in the district.


As voters are weighing the bond, they’ll also be considering dual requests to continue their past support of two levies that are coming up for another discussion.
• The Educational Programs and Operations Levy (EPOL), last approved in 2014, would cost property taxpayers $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. According to district officials, that’s “considerably less” than in past years because a funding formula approved this year by the Legislature increased the state school tax and reduced local levies.
The EPOL proceeds help cover costs that the state budget doesn’t. Programs and services this levy supports include special education, transportation, substitute teachers, training days and other professional development for teachers, extracurricular activities in academics and athletics, and labor contracts with employees.
• The Technology levy, which was first approved by voters in 2014, pays for learning-related use of iPads, Apple TVs, keyboards, WiFi, digital-learning coaches, and related equipment and personnel costs. The levy would cost $5.5 million per year for four years. The dollar amount is an increase because of inflation and a larger number of students (450 this year alone) over the last four years, officials explained.
Without a continued levy, there won’t be enough equipment for all students, officials said.


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