Schools ballot issue to be determined at March 6 meeting


Rick Sorrels

The exact wording and whether a schools levy or a bond measure (or both) will be on the August ballot is expected to be determined at the March 6 Peninsula School District board meeting.

At the Jan. 23 meeting a motion was made and passed unanimously to place a capital measure (for facility construction/repair) on the August 2014 ballot.

At the Feb. 6 meeting, three proposals were presented by Superintendent Chuck Cuzzetto: (1) a $55.9 million levy that would add $1.19 per thousand assessed value, (2) a $71.5 million bond that would add 86 cents per thousand assessed value, and (3) a still-being-drafted $60 million bond that would add $1.05 per thousand assessed value.

According to district officials, all three issues include improvements at Key Peninsula Middle School, a new elementary school near Costco and major work at Artondale Elementary School in Gig Harbor.

“It is important that we resolve the concerns of the committee that opposed the ballot measure this last November,” said Harlan Gallinger, board president.

The committee met with school representatives prior to the board meeting, with final discussion and verbal agreement obtained during the Feb. 6 meeting, that “The Committee would support, and not oppose, a bond issue, provided that the tax rate would be no higher than one dollar per thousand.”

On Feb. 6, the school board passed a motion to modify the $60 million bond measure for the August ballot, subject to review of the final wording, and the approval of the opposition Committee (Citizens for Responsible School Spending). The bond measure would increase the property tax assessment by .95 to .97 cents per thousand valuation ($240 per year for a $250,000 home). For comparison, the levy that failed in November 2013 would have added $350 per year in additional property taxes for a $250,000 home.

The first vote and agreement was quickly followed by a motion by Gallinger to also place the $55.9 million levy on the August ballot at the same time as the $60 million bond issue, along with a carefully worded statement that if the $60 million bond also passed, then only $2 million of the $55.9 million levy would actually be used for technology upgrades throughout the district. The motion passed three votes to two to prepare the resolution in its final form for the board to vote.

Commissioner Wendy Wojtanowicz observed and said the high tension level in the room had noticeably relaxed as soon as the first agreement and vote had been obtained, and later said that “the tension immediately returned after the second vote.”

There were numerous comments from both the public and board members about the voters being confused at the ballot box.

Jerry Gibbs, one of the leaders of the opposition committee said that, “We only agreed to support the one ballot issue, not the second. We will wait and see what the final wording is before we make a final determination what we will support now, if anything.”

“The voters should understand that we actually support our schools, and we do recognize that there are needs that need funding,” Gibbs said. “Our concerns are that a bond measure is the proper tool for funding at a low enough tax rate that the voters won’t reject, with specifics as to how the money will be spent.”

The committee expects to meet with district representatives before the March 6 board meeting to review the final wording of the ballot measures.

The next school board meeting will take place on March 6 at 6 p.m., at the Purdy Elementary School library. The deadline for filing a measure for the August 2014 ballot with the Pierce County Auditor is May 9. School board meetings are scheduled for March 6, March 20, April 10, and May 8. Public comment is welcome.