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State lawmakers consider bill to allow school districts to build teacher housing

Bainbridge Island is one of the places where high housing costs have made it difficult for teachers and other school staff to live close to where they work, the superintendent told lawmakers at a Jan. 20 hearing.

School district leaders, the statewide teachers union and other groups are urging lawmakers to address housing affordability for school employees.

Right now, state law allows school districts with fewer than 2,000 students to build teacher cottages and other employee housing. Sen. Jesse Salomon, a Democrat whose district includes Shoreline, Edmonds and northwest Seattle, has sponsored a bill that would expand that to all school districts. It advanced out of the Senate Committee on Early Learning and K-12 Education on Wednesday.

Advocates for the measure include Drayton Jackson, a school board director for the Central Kitsap School District who spoke at a public hearing on behalf of the Washington State School Directors’ Association. If school districts had a way to offer more affordable housing, they could attract a more diverse teaching workforce, Jackson said.

“Growing up, I didn’t see a teacher that looked like me until I got to junior high school,” said Jackson, who is Black. “Initiatives like this one would help ease the burden of teachers and staff of color who want to work and teach in districts where there’s no representation of their field.”

The bill would enable districts to get voter approval for construction bonds to build single- and multi-family housing.

Peter Bang-Knudsen is superintendent of the Bainbridge Island School District, where the average home costs about $850,000, according to Redfin. He told lawmakers the district has available land that it could use and that having more employees live nearby would yield multiple benefits.

“On Bainbridge Island, approximately half of my employees live off island, which forces them onto congested state Highway 305,” he said. “This bill would authorize school districts, with voter approval, to construct housing for district employees. On Bainbridge Island, not only could this help with our recruitment and retention efforts, but it would also help to reduce carbon emissions that often come with extended commutes.”

No one testified against the measure at a public hearing on Jan. 20.

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.