Districts seek levy passage for technology, building projects

Tumwater asking voters to replace 2 schools built while Eisenhower was president

Staff writerJanuary 26, 2014 

Space — whether for teaching or storage — is at a premium at Peter G. Schmidt Elementary School in Tumwater.

Every morning, some of the tables are folded up in the 57-year-old school’s lunchroom to make room for its orchestra class. Teacher Alan Fuller wears a microphone because it can get noisy while cafeteria workers prepare for the lunch crowd.

“We need more space,” said Principal Jack Arend. “We just need more space.”

Tumwater is one of six public school districts in Thurston County that are asking voters for more money to fund construction projects, beef up technology or support school programs.

Ballots for the special election were to begin arriving in homes Thursday, according to the Thurston County Auditor’s Office. All ballots must be postmarked by Feb. 11, or deposited into a ballot drop box by 8 p.m. that night. None of the ballot measures has organized opposition, and nobody wrote statements against them for the county’s voters pamphlet.

Home schooling parent Jenna Shaputis voiced her concern about Olympia School District’s tech levy last week at the Olympia City Council, which hosted a public hearing and voted in support of the proposition.

Shaputis said she worries about the health and safety of students being exposed to radiation caused by wireless devices and believes that schools are being pressured by big corporations to pay for high tech curriculum. She said she also feels the increase in technology in schools will create privacy issues for students, especially when they are under surveillance with cameras on school buses and in hallways.

“All of this computer business for kindergartners through 12th grade — it doesn’t help the individual,” Shaputis said at the public hearing. “This is the United States. I feel like it’s just communism.”

At the same meeting, Dan McCartan, who works with special education programs in the Olympia School District, urged the City Council to throw its support behind the tech levy.

“There are a lot of assistive technology (devices) and supports for struggling learners, where technology allows children to do things they could not otherwise do and access curriculum across a lot of different kinds of content areas,” he said.

If approved, Tumwater School District’s $136 million bond will replace the oldest buildings at Peter G. Schmidt and Littlerock elementary schools, and and pay for remodeling at East Olympia and Tumwater Hill elementary schools.

The district also would construct a building for the Secondary Options Alternative Learning Center, and add classroom wings and science rooms at Tumwater and Bush middle schools.

“The reason we’re adding the classrooms at the middle schools is because we are moving sixth-graders from elementary to the middle schools,” Tumwater Superintendent Mike Kirby said during a presentation for The Olympian’s editorial board.

Not only do district officials feel that middle school is a better fit, academically, for sixth-graders, the move also would help relieve growing pains in the nearly 6,400-student district’s elementary schools.

“This year we’re going to have the highest enrollment we’ve ever had,” Kirby said.

OLYMPIA: $13.2 MILLION

The Olympia School District is asking voters for a four-year $13.2 million levy measure to fund technology and school safety projects.

In preparation for the ballot measure, Superintendent Dick Cvitanich said officials convened a think tank to gather input from people in private industry about what type of technology was needed in schools.

The district also hosted public forums, conducted a survey and hired an outside expert to audit their technology offerings.

“In the feedback we’ve received from all groups, we had the tendency to focus on the devices, whether they’re desktop computers, laptop computers or iPads,” Cvitanich told The Olympian’s editorial board. “There hasn’t been the support for teachers, to train them to better integrate technology in their lessons.”

The district’s 2010 levy will expire at the end of the year and has paid for instructional and operational technologies in schools, computer lab upgrades, infrastructure upgrades and other tech enhancements, officials say.

The new levy would fund safety projects and technology upgrades across the district, from assistive devices for special education students and new computers to cameras on school buses and panic buttons throughout the district for emergencies. It would pay for more training and support to encourage teachers to use technology in their lessons, too.

“Technology is key to just about every job that we’re doing right now,” Cvitanich said. “We know from our employers that they want students who are technology savvy.”

Olympia School District voters have approved tech levies in 1994, 2000, 2006 and 2010.

NORTH THURSTON: $175 MILLION

Officials in South Sound’s largest district, North Thurston Public Schools, have on the ballot a $175 million bond measure to rebuild schools.

The district’s most recent construction bond was approved in 2006.

Officials had planned to send voters another measure in 2010, but then the economy tanked.

“With all of the economic downturn and problems in our state and nation, our board, our community, everyone felt we needed to wait,” North Thurston Superintendent Raj Manhas told the editorial board.

If approved, the new bond would pay for a new middle school in the Hawks Prairie area and major renovations at five existing schools.

One of the first projects would be a major remodel of North Thurston High, which opened in 1983 and was built for 1,250 students.

The school now has 1,450 students, and uses 16 portable classrooms.

“There’s a lot of wear and tear on the building,” assistant principal Dan Coleman said.

The building’s design and age aren’t a good mix with South Sound’s wet weather. Rust colored water stains can be seen on ceiling tiles throughout the school, and sometimes garbage cans are brought in to catch rain drops from leaky skylights.

“We can’t stop it,” Coleman said of the water damage. “It’s really discouraging from a kid’s perspective.”

In addition, the school has about 15 entrances, which make it difficult for officials to keep track of who is on campus, Coleman said.

The school’s science labs are outdated, and some aren’t linked to the Internet.

“Thirty years is a significant amount of time, and it’s time to modernize,” said Mike Laverty, North Thurston’s director of construction and design.

If the bond measure is approved, the district will leverage about $50 million in state funds to help pay for some of the construction projects, Manhas said.

Upgrades or modernization projects also would be done at Evergreen Forest and Pleasant Glade elementary schools, Komachin Middle School, and River Ridge High School. Technology, security and maintenance projects also are planned for buildings around the district.

“Investment in our schools and our facilities is absolutely critical to maintaining the exceptional academic work that goes on in these buildings,” Manhas said. “Strong schools make strong communities, and this is a great place.”

TUMWATER: $136 MILLION

If Tumwater’s bond measure passes, money would be generated for safety and security upgrades there, as well.

But the biggest ticket items are the replacements of Peter G. Schmidt and Littlerock elementary schools. Both were built in 1957, when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president and homes and businesses in the area were being razed for construction of Interstate 5.

At Peter G. Schmidt, the classrooms are much smaller than ones in modern schools, but the number of students per class is the same, Arend said.

Each classroom also has an exterior door. In the 1950s schools weren’t designed to limit potential access points for intruders.

“You build classrooms differently now,” Arend said.

A new school would open up educational possibilities for teachers at Peter G. Schmidt, Arend said.

Right now, the school has the infrastructure for only one computer lab, so the library has to be shut down for standardized tests. Activities that require students to move very much have to be done in the gym or on a sidewalk because most of the classrooms are so tiny, he said.

And then there’s the issue with temperature control. There’s no air conditioning in the old portions of the school, so the classrooms get hot during the spring and fall. Teachers often open the windows, but there aren’t screens, third-grade teacher Meeka Cotey said.

“The bees come in,” she added. “It’s very disruptive.”

Cotey grew up in Tumwater and said the idea of a new school is “a thrilling prospect.”

“We thought Peter G. was such an old building when I was in school,” she said. “And I’m 47.”

WHAT’S ON THE BALLOT

Here are the ballot measures on Thurston County’s Feb. 11 special election.

Some school districts have additional taxes they collect for bonds or other previously approved measures. School levy measures require a simple majority (50 percent plus one “yes” vote for passage; school bond measures require a super majority (60 percent plus one “yes” vote) for passage.

Values are based on projected property values in each district. Tax rates can fluctuate each year, but the total amount collected can not exceed the amounts authorized by voters.

• Centralia School District is asking for a four-year, $22.5 million maintenance and operations levy to support education programs. The average rate will be $3.043 per $1,000 assessed value through 2018. For more information, go to centralia.k12.wa.us.

• North Thurston Public Schools is requesting a 20-year, $175 million construction bond measure to upgrade or modernize five schools, build a new middle school and make districtwide improvements. If approved, it would increase the district’s tax by about 59 cents per $1,000 assessed value, according to superintendent Raj Manhas. For more information, go to nthurston.k12.wa.us.

• Tenino School District is asking for a 25-year, $38 million bond to expand and renovate the Tenino Elementary and Tenino Middle schools. If approved, the district also would construct a second high school gym, improve athletic facilities and upgrade technology infrastructure. The bond would cost homeowners about $2.83 per $1,000 assessed value of their home, according to the district’s website. It also could leverage about $9.7 million in matching funds. For more information, go to teninoschools.org.

• Griffin School District has a two-year, just over $4.5 million school programs and operations levy on the ballot. If approved, the rate would be about $2.52 per $1,000 assessed value during the first year and $2.54 per $1,000 in 2016. For more information, go to griffin.k12.wa.us.

• Olympia School District is asking voters for a four-year, $13.2 million levy to fund technology and school safety projects. The levy would cost about 62 cents per $1,000 of assessed value in 2015, 44 cents per $1,000 in 2016, 35 cents per $1,000 in 2017 and 34 cents per $1,000 by 2018.

For more information, go to osd.wednet.edu.

• Tumwater School District has a 20-year, $136 million bond measure on the ballot to replace two elementary schools, expand its middle schools and make other improvements around the district. The district plans to stagger its projects, and has bonds that will expire soon. As a result, the district will be able to maintain its taxing authority to about $5.94 per $1,000 for the bond and existing levy, if the measure passes, according to superintendent Mike Kirby.

“We assume that we’re going to have to run another bond in 8 years,” he said.

For more information, go to tumwater.k12.wa.us.

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433
lpemberton@theolympian.com
@Lisa_Pemberton

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