Guest Columnist: Dr. Art Jarvis


The Voice of Experience

I am the interim superintendent of the Peninsula School District. Over these past three months, it has been my honor to join this community and learn much more about the schools, parents and community at large.

My history includes over 50 years in the education business and over 30 years as superintendent. I offer that fact as the background for my next observation—this is a very special place. The beauty of this peninsula region would be impossible to miss, but the quality of the schools and school district might be less known to some.

During my time here, I have been delighted to experience the excellence of district programs and staff. Peninsula is so attractive that people want to work here, and that enables the schools to hire excellent staff.

After acknowledging so many wonderful aspects of the district and community, I was shocked to examine the status and background of our school facilities. The inconsistency of the condition and inadequacy of the facilities is perplexing. In reference to the repeated failures of capital proposals, one of the first requests from the school board of directors was to use my experience to assist in answering the question, “Where do we go from here?”

On Oct. 11, 2018, I presented my answer to that question by proposing a new capital issue for the February ballot. That proposition emerged from an intense review of the accumulated analyses of studies and recommendations of the past 15 years. Very little needs to be added to the prior conclusions that the facilities deficits are real and very stark. I came to believe that the major work was to determine the highest priority and focus for new efforts. I quote a friend out of the aerospace industry—“You can eat the facilities for a while and then they eat you.”

The facilities are starting to eat the Peninsula School District. Student growth has been handled by acquiring portable, temporary classrooms. We now have the equivalent of one-third of our elementary children and staff in portables, and we have exhausted the places to put more. Virtually all of the temporary solutions to house more children will displace other programs to find space. 

And the growth keeps coming. Current large kindergarten classes will require more space each year just to move through the system. New homes continue to be built and families with children are replacing the empty nesters. Therefore, our proposal includes building two additional elementary schools in addition to replacing and expanding two of the oldest elementary schools, Evergreen and Artondale. While collectively adding 77 more classrooms, Evergreen alone would go from eight permanent classrooms to 18.

An exciting feature of replacing an aging, deteriorated Evergreen is to envision the use of the new school by the Key Peninsula community. Essential planning for a new facility includes serving the KP area for decades as a school and community center. That planning process can begin as early as January and engage community members and educators.

The entire proposal was structured to fund the school construction in the most economical, affordable manner. This proposal is smaller than the 2018 bond and with the passage of the 2019 bond issue, school tax rates still will be lower than they have been in recent years. Our community already has the lowest school tax rate in Pierce County and will continue to do so.

A bond issue, the method used by nearly every district in the state for new building construction, spreads the cost over the life of the building so that all users in the future also contribute to the cost. It also allows us to build high quality facilities in a shorter period of time than a levy.

Some may suggest a capital levy instead of a bond. A capital levy would put the entire burden for the cost on current residents, resulting in a higher tax burden over the next six years. After those six years, we would be further behind where we are now.

In short, the facilities are in dire need and this plan will begin to implement solutions.

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Art Jarvis Ph.D. is the interim superintendent for the Peninsula School District.