The Seattle, Highline and Kent school districts all had enrollment below their projections this school year. But the Bethel School District in Pierce County has seen an influx of students and the district is making another attempt to pass a bond measure to build and expand schools.
The $443 million bond measure will be Bethel School District's fourth attempt since 2016. Each time, the district got more than 50 percent of votes in favor of a property tax measure to pay back the bonds. But Washington law requires that bond measures pass by a super-majority, meaning 60 percent of votes.
David Hammond is assistant superintendent for elementary schools in the Bethel district.
“It’s very frustrating with the majority of people in the community want this and the minority get to choose,” Hammond said.
Bethel Superintendent Tom Seigel has been contacting state lawmakers to urge them to change the threshold for bond measures. State law says levies only have to clear 50 percent to pass. Levies increase property taxes for a shorter period of time than bond measures.
The Bethel district serves almost 20,000 kids in Spanaway and the surrounding area and has been seeing an increase as families move there in search of lower-cost housing. Hammond said three elementary schools built for 500 students have more than 700 students each. One school is turning a staff room into a space for kindergartners.
“We’re having to move out the kitchen and the refrigerator and all those things and we’re converting it into a classroom space right now,” he said. “So every ounce of space in that building is going to be used for classroom space at this time.”
The Bethel district said the school portion of people's local property tax bills will go down next year even if the bond measure passes. That's because the legislature has capped the amount of money school districts can raise for operating levies.
The Pierce County Assessor confirmed the tax rate charged by the school district would go down even if voters approve the bond.