School districts are wise to coordinate campaigns

The OlympianDecember 1, 2013 

A voter drops off their ballot at the Thurston County Courthouse.(STEVE BLOOM/staff photographer)

STEVE BLOOM — The Olympian Buy Photo

Thurston County’s three largest school districts — North Thurston, Olympia and Tumwater — will be in front of voters in early 2014, seeking support for measures the districts say are essential to their futures and the futures of the students they serve.

The Tumwater School District and North Thurston Public Schools each have sizeable bond requests to support school construction and remodeling efforts, technology and safety. Olympia has a much smaller technology and safety levy to replace a similar levy that expires in 2014.

One of the more interesting facts about the upcoming campaigns is that the three school districts are supporting one another’s efforts. School levy and bond campaigns are no longer run in isolation. Residents from all the districts are working together on a much more unified campaign.

This makes perfect sense. It recognizes that the three school districts — the three communities, for that matter — have many of the same goals and needs that can be met more efficiently through coordinated efforts.

They all realize they have a responsibility to create safe learning environments to better protect students from random acts of violence. Look for schools in the future that have single points of entry and less of a sprawling campus feel to them. Get used to more security cameras in schools, too.

These safety measures in large part grow out of the tragic shooting of young students and adults almost a year ago at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

Increased emphasis on technology also cuts across all the school districts in the community. Computer literacy is a prerequisite for many of the jobs that await today’s students as they advance into adulthood. Proficiency in the world of computers and mobile devices is just another tool in the educational tool box, right there with reading, writing and math skills.

The school districts know that students who aren’t exposed to computer technology at home run the risk of falling behind their fellow students who are more tech savvy. The schools and teachers can help level the playing field in the classroom with the proper training, technical support and equipment.

The Tumwater School District seeks approval of a $136 million bond measure, and North Thurston Public Schools will place a $175 million bond before its voters. Each district is playing catchup to school construction needs after postponing votes on bond measures — Tumwater in 2009 and North Thurston in 2010 — due to the sluggish economy.

But North Thurston Public Schools has added 1,500 students since 2005 and needs to build a new middle school in the Hawks Prairie area. Five other schools are targeted for roofs, heating systems, energy efficiency upgrades and other improvements.

If voters approve the bond, the school district is likely to qualify for $50 million in additional state funding to support student population growth, which is 8 percent since 2005.

Tumwater would replace most of its two oldest elementary schools — Peter G. Schmidt and Littlerock, which were each built in 1957. New classrooms are planned at Tumwater and Bush middle schools as Tumwater joins North Thurston and Olympia in revamping its middle schools to serve grades 6 through 8.

Olympia and North Thurston's measures equal tax hikes. Tumwater's existing levy will be retired and the new measure maintains the previous rate.

Homeowners in the Olympia School District would be asked to pay $5.33 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The rate would be $5.74 per $1,000 in the North Thurston district; $5.94 in Tumwater.

In the weeks and months ahead, study the bond and levy measures on the Feb. 11, 2014, ballot. Be an informed voter — and vote.

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