There are plenty of misconceptions about building public schools, from how and when they’re built to who pays for them.
Many voters assume money for building new schools comes automatically from the state. Not true. Washington State requires voters to approve local bonds to build schools. Only then does the state kick in money towards the cost of construction. Often called a “state match,” this actually isn’t a dollar-for-dollar match. Much of the burden of construction falls to the local voters.
Along with this, Washington State is one of only six states in the country that requires a 60% supermajority for passing school bonds. Kentucky, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota and West Virginia are the other five states. This hurdle makes passing a bond very difficult. Over the past four decades, Bethel voters have approved only four bonds, the most recent in 2006.
While only four bonds have passed, every bond the district has put up since 1980 has earned more than 50 percent of the vote, with our most recent attempt in November earning 59.2 percent approval.
Our last new schools were built in 2009, and since then our 202-square-mile corner of Pierce County has gotten more and more crowded. Scores of people are getting priced out of the cities and buying houses in Bethel, where the median home value is $400,000 less than in King County.
With all of our new neighbors moving in, overcrowding at our 27 schools was inevitable. Our old buildings aren’t getting any younger, and routine maintenance can only take us so far. Plus, there are safety and security upgrades we would like to make, but simply can’t, due to a lack of bond funding.
Bethel has been there before. From 1974 to 1981 we were a year-round district, which was also due to failed bonds and overcrowding.
With all this in mind, our School Board (who all live in the district) voted unanimously to put a bond before the voters one more time in February.
The February bond is very similar to the bond voters saw in November. There are a few small changes based on community feedback, but the overall cost is the same. If approved, the bond would build three brand new schools, including a brand new Bethel High School. It would also renovate and expand six of our other schools, including a new wing on Graham-Kapowsin High School.
The bond will cost Bethel taxpayers $1.42 per thousand dollars of assessed value. For the average single family home in Bethel ($297,021), that would mean $35 a month, or $1.17 a day. Because of the changes made last year in how the state funds public education, even with this increase, local school-related taxes in 2019 would still be lower than they were in 2018.
Election Day is February 12. More information can be found at www.bethelsd.org/bond