GIG HARBOR, Wash. – The national conversation about how to keep our kids safe at school continues with local school districts making big changes. Highline School District will start putting in automatic locks on exterior doors this spring. It’s exactly what Peninsula School District in Gig Harbor hopes it can do.
But first, voters must approve a $220 million bond measure. A bond hasn’t passed in the Peninsula School District in 15 years, since 2003.
Parent Jennifer Butler has spent the last year fighting for the April 24 bond. She is the co-chair of Stand Up for Peninsula Schools. The biggest chunk of the money will build a new elementary school in the north Gig Harbor area.
“You can see, particularly at the elementary level, the overcrowding is really an issue,” said Butler.
There are 12 portables at Purdy Elementary School and, according to the district, more than 25 percent of Peninsula District elementary students learn in portables.
“There’s about 1,900 new homes that are set to be ready to go in terms of being inhabited by 2020,” said Peninsula Schools Superintendent Rob Manahan.
That means more kids in aging buildings not up to modern fire code, with no sprinklers in some areas of certain schools. The bond measure includes dollars to address fears over a potential school shooting after 17 deaths at a high school in Parkland, Florida. The bond measure will provide funding for automatic locks on exterior school doors.
“In the newer schools that have been modernized, they have automatic ability -- a button push -- to secure all their entrances,” said Butler.
But that’s not the case at most of the Peninsula schools. The biggest hurdle to get the bond measure passed is simple.
“Frankly, people are very concerned about their taxes,” said Butler.
While the state has increased property taxes, Manahan says the school district is doing its part to cut back costs.
“We’re dropping our levy by 48 cents -- and the bond is 45 cents from Peninsula School District alone, so it’s a three-cent drop in property taxes,” said Manahan.
Some of the $220 million bond measure will also provide updates for students and staff with disabilities, like adding wheelchair ramps to schools. Another issue is aging HVAC systems that have reached their supportable life, which means maintenance becomes near impossible because some of the parts aren’t available anymore.
The bond won't pass without some pushback or controversy. According to The News Tribune, a group called Responsible Taxation of Citizens says it sees problems with the district's proposed bond measure. It says that certain businesses who support the bond measure now will get first grabs at contract work for school improvement if passed. Voters can read their opposition to the bond on the voter pamphlet for the April 24 ballot.