PORT ORCHARD — Although the two South Kitsap School District ballot measures up for approval this election have generated predictable controversy since they were announced by the board of directors this summer, an Oct. 18 forum at the Dragonfly Cinema was only half-filled with residents who came to listen to a presentation and a Q&A session about the proposals.
Superintendent Karst Brandsma outlined the two proposals, one of which to fund construction of a second high school on Old Clifton Road that would cost $184 million to design and build.
The second, a capital projects levy costing $21 million, would pay for a list of projects at various schools in the district, including renovation of South Kitsap High School’s pool and restrooms, and roof replacement at Sedgwick and Marcus Whitman middle schools and Sunnyslope Elementary. Other levy funds would be allocated to improve ADA accessibility and fulfill compliance requirements districtwide by the federal Office of Civil Rights.
The levy also would pay for technology upgrades for classroom instruction, and safety and security work to secure entrances at district middle schools, plus fire alarm replacement throughout the district.
Brandsma said South Kitsap would qualify for at least $3 million in state matching funds that would be added to the levy amount. The high school bond measure, Proposition 1, also will qualify for at least $9 million in state matching funds.
The superintendent said the approximately 1,500 students who would attend the new high school likely would come from the Cedar Heights Middle School feeder pattern.
“Contrary to what many believe,” Brandsma said, the McCormick Woods area “is not the richest part of the district. Cedar Heights has the highest reduced-lunch applications in our district, followed by Marcus Whitman in the center of the district. The lowest number of applications actually is in the Sedgwick Middle School area.”
The districtwide average of those applying for the reduced-lunch program is about a 35-percent poverty or reduced rate, he said. The rate is 45 percent in the Cedar Heights area.
Students would also likely be added to the new school from the Marcus Whitman feeder pattern. Brandsma said a final decision would be made by a citizens community committee.
“The Urban Growth Act is actually a state act that keeps urban sprawl out of rural areas,” he said. “You cannot get a license or permit to build, especially a facility this size, anywhere other than in an Urban Growth Area. That’s by state statute.”
That feeder area is growing the most of any in the district, he added. He said the advantages to building there is that the location would offer shorter bus rides for students and mitigate the current traffic congestion at South Kitsap High School.
If the bond is approved, Brandsma said the earliest he could foresee the new high school opening would be in September 2022 or, at the latest, the fall of 2023.
The school district has been using the planning work done by Central Kitsap School District as a tool in preparing for its own proposed construction project. CKSD has built a combined high school-middle school facility in its district.
“What we’ve found out from them is, because of the cost of materials and labor — [an increase of] 4 to 6 percent a year — they took their entire approved ballot measure and got as many of their projects started as possible for only one reason,” Brandsma said.
“If they didn’t start all of them soon, they wouldn’t have enough resources to complete their project. By doing them all at one time, it disrupted every high school campus in their school district, but they came in on time and under budget. They were able to add some additional things to support education that they [otherwise] wouldn’t have had.”
The Proposition 2 levy, requiring a 50-percent plus one vote majority, would be funded over four years from property taxes. Brandsma said the district wouldn’t get $21 million up-front but would receive the monies in eight equal payments after it’s collected by the county. That will create some inconveniences to school sites, however, where projects will be undertaken when the money becomes available.
The superintendent was asked how much of the school monies are generated from property taxes. He said that although each property owner’s taxes are different, he estimates South Kitsap schools receive about 50 percent of a property owner’s tax payment.
Brandsma said not all taxing authorities get funding the same way.
“There are a number of taxing authorities that have a legal authority to place a ballot measure [before] a community to request a portion of those tax assessments. The library [tax] is separate from fire, fire is separate from school districts.”
Local transportation authorities, such as Kitsap Transit, sometimes have authority to tap into the sales tax, he said, if approved by the voters.
“The school district taxing authority, if the voters approve it, they approve the amount, not the tax rate. So, if your assessment goes up or down, you’re going to pay approximately the same to the school district — [they] won’t receive additional money. That’s not the case with other taxing authorities, [whose funding is] based on the tax rate.”
An audience member took exception to what he said was the rising rate of taxes he and others in the district are having to pay. He told the superintendent that it was unfair to burden his granddaughter with taxes to pay off the bond for the new high school, even though he recognized its need.
“If I could go over and start laying bricks for you now, I’d do it. But the point is, we’re going to drive people out of area with the taxes … and we can’t afford it.”
Brandsma countered that because of the McCleary decision, school taxes next year will decrease.
“Fundamentally, you’re talking about a restructure of the state [tax] system,” he said. “We’ve been arguing that for a long time. The only option the local school district has is to put it before a vote of the people … all I can say is other communities are stepping up and, by golly, as long as I’m in this role, I’m coming back to you because our kids deserve it.”