It was 2003 the last time in which Gig Harbor passed a school bond. That original bond is set to expire this year, and another is currently up on the ballot. To make your voice heard on the issue, you’ll need to submit your ballot by February 12.
School bonds address facilities throughout the district. This is different from a levy that addresses shortcomings in operational costs of the school when all state funds have been allocated. Under the proposed 2019 bond, the school district would build two new elementary schools, replace Artondale Elementary, replace Evergreen Elementary and make repairs to other buildings including leaking roofs and sputtering HVAC systems.
That last new elementary school built in the district was more than 25 years ago and, according to Stand up for Peninsula Schools Chair Jennifer Butler, overcrowding is a very serious issue.
“My daughter was at Purdy last year, where they have 14 portables! The hallways are jammed up like Grand Central Station and lunch lines so long she barely ever had time to eat,” said Butler.
With the current elementary population, the district has had to bring in a total of 66 portable classrooms, meaning about one in three students is placed in a classroom outside their designated elementary school. It’s also not uncommon for children to be placed in a learning environment inside the school kitchen or in the already crowded hallways.
If passed, the four new schools will add 77 additional classrooms and relieve overcrowding across the district at all elementary schools, reducing class size closer to the state-mandated levels. It also brings kids into permanent classrooms rather than isolated portables.
In addition to the new and renovated schools, other schools in the district would see overhauls of dated HVAC systems and other currently neglected repairs.
“Our oldest schools were built over 60 years ago and have failing infrastructure. Minter Creek had to be evacuated a few times last year due to burning smells caused by failing HVAC,” said Butler.
The bond would also address outdated sprinkler and fire-alarm systems. “Currently, 11 of 15 schools have fire alarms, sprinklers and/or on-site water levels for first responders that do not meet current code. Artondale and PHS have no sprinklers in many areas, including gyms and other common spaces where large amount of kids gather,” explained Butler.
The cost of the bond will be spread out over a maximum 20-year period, making it less of a direct hit on homeowners. If the proposed bond is passed, those homeowners will actually see a slight decrease in property taxes than what they are currently paying. Local realtors are taking notice and, depending on the outcome, both home values and attracting families to specific neighborhoods will see the affect.
“The worst thing that can exist in a local market is uncertainty,” said Paige Schulte, a realtor with Windemere Professional Partners and mother of three school-age children. “Right now parents who live in Gig Harbor don't know how the schools are going to solve the problem and are considering their options. So immediately, if the bond passed, we'd see relief in that tension for homeowners.”
Another current difficulty for families looking at buying in a specific neighborhood is not knowing if their kids will actually attend the school which the neighborhood is zoned for.
“For example, if I sell a home zoned for Discovery, I can't guarantee that the new homeowner's children will have a slot at their ‘neighborhood school’ because it is full. They will bus them to where there is an open seat. This is not good for those homeowners,” said Schulte.
RE/MAX Broker Jo Jensen also sees the current challenges and what would be alleviated if the bond is passed.
“Parents move here looking at the stats of what our schools offer scholastically and then are shocked at the condition of the schools with all the portables and poverty-level conditions. Updated and newer schools will better fit the profile of the area and continue to add value,” said Jensen.
“Let the schools go and your entry-level buyers and move-up buyers will opt for areas like Maple Valley, University Place, Fircrest, etc.,” said Schulte. “Your home values will decrease if families lose faith in the system.”
In order to pass, the bond needs to receive a 60 percent super majority vote. A vote this past April generated a 59 percent approval. Organizations like Stand up for Peninsula Schools are hoping this time around they will get the extra 1 percent they need to create a better and safer learning environment for generations of children.
“Schools provide resources for the whole community—not just the kids who attend. Taxpayers and communities benefit from upward mobility, higher wages, availability of skilled trades, lower crime rates, lower unemployment and less reliance on government assistance,” said Butler.
Jensen adds: “Let’s not regret and wait for something horrible to happen to our children and then react. It is time today to say YES and make it happen. Also as a Broker and someone familiar with building, the longer we put this off the more expensive this becomes.”
As with any vote, it is important to be well informed before casting your ballot. All projects in regards to the Bond are available on the district’s website and are clearly laid out in several formats. You can find this information at PSD401.net/bond. Ballots must be received by Tuesday, February 12.
“Even if you don't care about your home values because you'll never move, if you care about who your neighbors are, you should vote YES. Communities with undesirable schools have higher levels of rental properties and lower entry-level home values. This shifts the socioeconomic makeup of your town,” said Schulte.