Shawn Jensen, Guest Columnist
On Feb. 12, we will be asked to approve a Peninsula Schools capital bond measure focused on the most pressing need—overcrowding—in a district that has not built a new elementary school since 1992.
You may be asking, why the shift in focus from the 2018 bond proposal? The simple answer is local school districts are responsible for constructing local facilities to meet the instructional needs of local citizens. Over nearly 16 years Peninsula School District (PSD) voters have rejected five capital measures for facilities. Because of those failures, current 2018 to 2019 elementary enrollment in the district is currently 690 students beyond the capacity of the existing 148 permanent classrooms.
The district has been forced to address this shortfall by using an ever-increasing number of portables at each of the eight elementary schools. However, as enrollment is projected to soon reach 900 students over current capacity, there simply isn’t space for more portables. The only answer is to build new elementary schools (two are now needed) and replace our two oldest with new, larger schools to handle both current and future enrollment projections and address the smaller K-3 class sizes mandated by the Washington state supreme court McCleary decision.
The state currently requires that facility construction funding come from local taxpayers through either a capital levy or a capital bond measure. The last capital measure approved by PSD voters was in 2003 when 60.89 percent of voters authorized up to $45 million in bonds primarily to modernize Purdy Elementary and Harbor Ridge Middle schools. Those 20-year bonds will be paid off this year, a full four years early.
Since then, five capital measures have been at the polls: In 2011, a $78 million bond garnered 57.67 percent approval; in 2013, a $50 million levy got 48.67 percent; in 2014 a dual $60 million bond and $55.9 million levy received 49.08 percent and 47.08 percent, respectively. Last April’s $220 million bond came just 240 “yes” votes short of passage with 58.96 percent approval. Unfortunately, with each failure and the passage of time the cost of new facilities continues to escalate and overcrowding increases, straining existing, aging facilities even further.
For those that will not approve any tax measure that is placed before them, I don’t expect to change your minds. I would, however, like to appeal to those who may be ambivalent or leaning against it because you feel we are taxed too much already. If that is you, I would like you to consider the following reasons for why your vote to approve this bond is actually crucial to keeping more of your own money.
There are three primary reasons why bonds are the preferred method for school construction over capital levies. The first is because funding is available as soon as the bonds are sold, whereas with a levy sufficient funding is often not available for several years, until the taxes are collected to fund specific projects. Second, since bond funding is repaid over many years, bond measures can request larger amounts than levies because taxes are collected in smaller amounts over two decades or more. A capital levy of an equivalent dollar amount would require a significantly higher tax assessment over each of the four or six years the levy is approved for.
With facilities construction needed immediately, a bond measure would allow construction much sooner, with a smaller annual tax hit to the voter. By paying the 2003 bonds off early, after refinancing them twice and saving taxpayers millions, PSD has demonstrated accountability for the resources the voters have entrusted to them.
But what about that third reason to support a bond measure over a levy?
Well, who do you believe should fully pay for school facilities construction? Should current taxpayers, many of whom may be on limited incomes or seniors, pay for the entire cost of these facilities, or is it more equitable to share the burden of these costs with future taxpayers who choose to move here to raise their families? With a bond measure, costs are shared among both current and future taxpayers who each pay smaller amounts over the additional years as bonds are repaid.
This is the responsible taxation of citizens that should be approved for the common benefit of all.
Shawn Jensen is commissioner at large of Key Pen Parks and a fire commissioner for District 16. He lives with his wife, Sami, in north Key Peninsula. The couple’s six children attend or attended school in PSD.
UNDERWRITTEN BY NEWSMATCH/MIAMI FOUNDATION, THE ANGEL GUILD, ROTARY CLUB OF GIG HARBOR, ADVERTISERS, DONORS AND PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT LOCAL, INDEPENDENT NONPROFIT NEWS