Editorial: Say yes to school bonds and no to unfair state supermajority law

By The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.) Editorial Board

Let’s begin by stating the painfully obvious: Three South Sound school districts shouldn’t be in the wearisome position of asking voters yet again for money to build and upgrade schools. Shame on legislators if they don’t finally step up this year and do their part to lower Washington’s school bond “supermajority” hurdle.

In the past year, Peninsula School District won 58.96 percent backing from voters for a construction package, Bethel 59.22 percent and Yelm 58.97 percent. Those would be runaway victories in any other election.

But different rules apply to school bond measures in Washington. A perverse, archaic 60-percent threshold has caused a disinvestment crisis on too many K-12 campuses.

We strongly urge Peninsula, Bethel and Yelm residents to support their schools on Feb. 12. But it’s inexcusable that the majority of voters in those communities must endure the futility of marking “yes” on their ballots over and over, like characters from the movie “Groundhog Day.” Even the most diligent citizens might eventually burn out.

Not this time, though; rather, we’re hoping for a surge of support – from people who’ve waffled in the past, cast ill-informed “no” votes or shirked their duty to participate in special elections. Some folks might’ve been daunted by a spike in property taxes in 2018, part of the Legislature’s plan to meet a school-funding court order. But that was an anomaly, and tax rates are headed down starting this year.

These are the voters who can deliver the few extra hundred “yeses” needed to get over the 60-percent hump.

Families and educators in the territory straddling Pierce and Thurston counties are up against woefully crowded schools. Yelm School District seeks a $98.9 million bond to replace a dilapidated middle school and elementary school.

Getting rid of 30 unsecure portable classroom buildings up to 40 years old is a worthy goal. So is passing a bond for the first time since 2003, when Yelm had 1,500 fewer students.

The best possible valentine for local children would be the approval of school bonds on Feb. 12.

Meanwhile, legislators need to muster the courage – and two-thirds support – to begin knocking down the repressive supermajority barrier. Washington voters should be allowed to act on a constitutional amendment this fall.