Dan White, Guest Columnist
The deteriorated state of the Peninsula School District buildings is a known fact. Taxpayers have approved $190 million in maintenance and operations levies since 2012 ($87 million in 2012 and $103 million in 2016); however, less than 15 percent of this money has been spent on buildings. The school board has misallocated funds leading to the neglect of our precious facilities. The board has no experience managing large construction projects; the last approved bond was $45 million in 2003. The voters rejected the 2013 bond proposals of $50 and $60 million.
What is wrong with the bond? The bond provides for six years of spending with 23 years of paying, resulting in a minimum interest expense of $132 million. This is the minimum interest as the bond rates are based on old rate data. Only one-third of the bonds will be issued in 2018, then again in 2020. The six-year appropriation subjects taxpayers to probable interest rate increases.
PSD has a long list of facility needs. PSD purchased land near the YMCA over four years ago, but the board is undecided about whether this location is suitable for a new school. Planning, design, bidding, scheduling builders and obtaining permits is a lengthy process that has not even started yet. The taxpayers deserve a more fully developed proposal rather than a “wish list” of projects before we throw $220 million at the school board and hope for the best. The bond resolution before the voters does not contain a list of identifiable projects. The board could fund any capital projects they deem necessary whereas incremental voter approval could give the voters the power to monitor and assess the school board performance.
The McCleary decision of the state Supreme Court changed how public schools are funded. The state is now responsible for 100 percent of teachers’ salaries for basic education. Our current M&O levy can now be redirected to building maintenance. Voter-approved M&O funds will be about $20 million in 2019 after the levy rate adjusts to $1.50, as required by the Legislature.
There is a better way. Give maintenance a chance; reallocate a large share of the 2019 M&O levy funds to commence facilities maintenance and repairs immediately. Incrementally approve funds for capital projects, not a $220 million six-year blank check. Fund capital projects with short-term capital levies. Capital levies have no interest cost, saving us—the taxpayers—$132 million instead of the current school board plan proposed to voters.
Responsible Taxation of Citizens advocates an 83 cent per thousand, $50 million, four-year capital levy, coupled with a reallocation of the $20 million in the M&O levy going all toward repair and maintenance as a good start. In four years we will have provided $130 million to repair every school in the district and build a new, more appropriately sized and geographically located elementary. And the best part is we will be debt-free at the end of that four year period. Incremental voter approval would give the voters the power to monitor and assess school board performance.
Let’s start being creative and thinking outside the box. The vacant CenturyLink building located at 8102 Skansie Avenue, Gig Harbor is 23,310 square feet and available for $3.25 million. This low cost, centrally located building should find a way into our plans. Potential options: (1) Move the administrative offices to CenturyLink, tear down the old offices and repurpose the land for an elementary school. (2) Move Henderson Bay High School to CenturyLink, repurpose Henderson Bay into an elementary school, solving immediate overcrowding issues. (3) Move the bus yard to district-owned land across from the Purdy prison (over 100 acres) and construct an elementary school on the vacated bus yard property. (4) Sell the land across from the YMCA to help pay for the new elementary. (5) Cost-saving modular construction and two-story buildings save too as was proven in the construction of Henderson Bay. (6) Survey other districts that successfully built schools and use their plans. We might even know what the cost will be before construction begins.
Let’s go slow—vote no.
Dan White owns Whitehouse Properties LLC, is a retired CPA and co-chair of Responsible Taxation of Citizens. He lives on Fox Island.
UNDERWRITTEN BY NEWSMATCH/MIAMI FOUNDATION, THE ANGEL GUILD, ROTARY CLUB OF GIG HARBOR, ADVERTISERS, DONORS AND PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT LOCAL, INDEPENDENT NONPROFIT NEWS