It’s not news that our school district is in the middle of a population explosion that looks to continue for the foreseeable future.
New residents are flooding into all corners of Pierce County, but the growth is especially heavy in unincorporated areas, such as Spanaway and Graham.
Bethel’s student population has grown more than 2,000 students since our last new schools were opened in 2009. We’ve added 717 new students in the past two years alone, and demographic projections indicate that another 3,000 students will arrive in the next 10 years.
That leaves us with one question: What do we do with all of those new students?
The easy answer is to build more schools, but voters have rejected 17 bond measures in the past 21 attempts dating back to 1980. The only passed bonds in the almost 40-year timespan were in 1986, 1990, 2001 and 2006.
The failure of our most recent bonds — including November’s, which fell just 307 votes shy of the required 60% supermajority — has led district leaders to officially move on to plan b.
Some more drastic options are already on the table. Currently our Long Range Facilities Task Force is exploring alternate options to eliminate overcrowding if a bond is not passed soon. One option is a move to a multi-track, year-round school calendar in the 2020/21 school year. Bethel was a year-round district from 1974–1981, also due to failed bonds and overcrowding.
Deciding to redraw school boundaries was not a decision our board took lightly. Asking families to move their children to a new school — which will be the case for many families — is not something anyone is looking forward to, but the hard truth is that it is needed in order to accommodate our growing student population.
Our last reboundary was in 2013, and more than 1,000 new students have arrived in the district since then, which has created an imbalance in our schools.
After coming so close in November, the board decided to put up another bond 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.
Passing a bond will solve many of our longterm growth problems, but school boundaries will be redrawn in 2019 no matter what happens in February. If the November bond fails, the district will likely continue to have to redraw the boundaries more frequently to juggle new students that are moving into the district at a record pace.
Before redrawing any school boundaries, the School Board will take input from parents, teachers and community members.