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Democratic Legislator Says School Bonds Should Only Need Simple Majority To Pass

Bethel School District
Students crowd a door to get into the main building at Graham-Kapowsin High School between classes.

Thirteen school districts across Washington state asked voters to approve construction bonds, but it appears that less than a third won enough support. That’s prompting renewed calls for the state to change the 60-percent threshold for passage to a simple majority.

This is a problem that mostly affects rural school districts, which have fewer properties to tax than urban areas. In the Puget Sound region, the Sedro-Woolley, Arlington, South Kitsap and Bethel school districts all appear to fallen short of the super-majority needed for construction bond measures.

Monica Stonier is a Democratic state representative from Vancouver who works as an instructional coach for Evergreen Public Schools. She said she plans to introduce a bill to change the state constitution so that bond measures can pass with a simple majority.

“As an educator and somebody who works in schools every day when I’m not in Olympia, I just really see the need and particularly for districts across the state, but certainly one in my county that really suffers from this threshold,” Stonier said.  

Battle Ground School District in Clark County has had difficulty passing a bond measure. Unlike bonds, school levies only need to clear 50 percent to pass.

In order to change the constitution, two-thirds of the members in the state House and state Senate would have to vote in favor. Then it would need to be approved by a majority of voters in the next election.

Bethel School District, located in rural-suburban Pierce County, appears to have failed for the second time this year to win enough support for a measure to build new schools. Superintendent Tom Seigel has been emailing state lawmakers to change the state constitution, arguing that the super-majority requirement leaves rural school districts without the ability to raise enough money to build new schools.

“I do believe that as people really begin to understand how significant and how limiting this situation currently is and how unfair it is for kids in districts that are property poor, that they’ll begin to realize we really need to do this to help all the kids in the state be successful,” Seigel said.

The Bethel School District is running out of classroom space because of population growth, Seigel said. About 5,000 kids, roughly a quarter of the school district population, have class in portables instead of in permanent buildings. He said the district is taking steps to accommodate the growth by redrawing school boundaries to spread students more evenly and a citizens’ committee is evaluating the possibility of having some schools teach in shifts or move to a year-round schedule.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.