Lawmakers shortchange students as local schools struggle with leaking roofs, overcrowding

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SPANAWAY, Wash. -- The Legislature's special session is winding down, without lawmakers addressing the important issue of money for education.

Lawmakers failed to act (except to pass a bill to set up a task force) despite a Supreme Court mandate to fully fund Washington's public schools.

So the state continues to shortchange our kids and nowhere is that more evident than the Bethel School District in the South Sound.

Take for example Bethel High School in Spanaway with about 1,600 students. They are so crowded that the students are packed into portables as old as the Korean War.

The district is hoping a $237 million bond will solve their crisis.

There is so little space that many students spill out into the hallways to eat lunch on the floors.

“It’s a giant mess it’s really kind of crazy,” student Michaela Wonacott said.

It's elbow to elbow trying to get from one class to another and it’s even worse when students have to squeeze through the only door to the school's 17 portable classrooms.

It's been coined the ‘Bethel Bottleneck’ with 600 students passing through a small area at one time.

But the overcrowding isn’t their only headache.

Every time it rains, students and staff have to worry about leaks flooding classrooms, hallways and offices.

“The pipes in the walls are all 64 years old, the last five years we've had four floods, three of them due to broken pipes including eight over there in the ceiling,” Superintendent Tom Seigel said.

Seigel is frustrated.

“I’ve frankly lost hope that they are going to solve the problem,” Seigel said.

The Legislature is in special session but lawmakers have done nothing to meet the Supreme Court's mandate, except to pass a bill to create a task force that would figure out how to fully fund schools next year.

Now the Bethel School District's only hope is that residents pass a $237 million bond measure to replace or renovate six schools, fix nine others and build a new elementary school.

“You have to appeal to the fact that it's a crisis and they need to be a part of the solution,” Seigel said.

If the bond measure passes, a homeowner with a $200,000 home will pay about $10 more a month.

But the same bond measure was on the ballot earlier this year and voters said no.

Student Eric Mock hopes they'll change their minds so he can feel safe at school.

“We shouldn’t be able to walk around and have the chance of the ceiling collapsing on us,” Mock said.

The last time the bond failed to pass, it failed by fewer than 450 votes. The district is desperately hoping the bond will pass a second time around, on April 26.

The district says they are expecting 3,000 more students to enroll in the next 10 years.



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