SKSD considering smaller funding requests of voters

The South Kitsap School District attempted a one-stop solution for districtwide school replacements and improvements in 2023 when presenting voters with a $271 million juggernaut of a bond last November.

Five months after the measure’s defeat, the district’s school board could be eyeing a multi-measure campaign with considerably smaller asks.

Among the early scenarios to consider is a two-year Technology Levy collecting roughly $8.4 million. Superintendent Tim Winter introduced the idea at a March 20 meeting out of a need to fund replacement laptops and parts for the district’s 1:1 Chromebook initiative over the next four years and a growing need to upgrade and install security cameras across the district.

“The high school cameras are getting old, we don’t have them in the elementary” schools, he said.

The district could also consider both a Capital Levy, something the district found success with in 2018, and a smaller bond more comparable to the $150 million ask passed by voters in Bremerton in February. District officials have indicated that one or more of these early examples could be considered for future election measures.

Director Megan Higgins said the smaller measures could attract more interest and allow the district to finally move forward on some high-priority fixes.

“I think it’s time for us to start ticking off some of those items. I think we learned a lot from the bond when we proposed it, and it was a large bond. I kind of like looking at these smaller projects that will take shorter time so we can start and see progress and build trust so that people will see that we are doing exactly what we say,” she said.

Director Jay Villars added: “It is really hard to not try to do as many things as possible. I don’t think we’re going to try not to do as much as possible. We’re just going to put it in a different focus and see what kind of combinations the community will work with us for.”

Director Brian Pickard hinted at a priority list that identified close to $1 billion of needed work. The 21-year measure proposed in 2023 would have funded the replacement of Olalla and South Colby elementary schools, and Cedar Heights Middle School. It would have also provided money for the combination of the sites of Explorer Academy and Discovery High School and would have funded the first phase of renovations at South Kitsap High School. A variety of needs at the remaining schools were set to be funded by the bond as well.

The measure strayed from the district’s lengthy mission to build a second high school in South Kitsap, a move some supporters of the latest bond had counted on to even have a chance at reaching the required 60% supermajority to pass.

“We crafted this bond to try to touch every region in the district, ” said Gerry Austin with the South Kitsap School Supporters who had campaigned for the last bond. “We have a large district. We’ve got Olalla out to practically Gorst and up to Bremerton.”

Now the district’s approach will take into consideration the results of a community survey among other public feedback following the last election. Winter indicated that continued cries from South Kitsap voters for additional transparency, accountability in ballot measures and an interest in reduced asks with shorter timelines had greatly affected the chances of a passing vote.

“We heard those things throughout the process,” Winter said. “Our intention certainly was not to be unfocused or nontransparent or not accountable to what we were doing, but if that’s the feeling people have, we have to consider that.”

Pickard added: “I’m still in mourning of the last bond because I thought it was such a good package, but I get it, looking at the survey results, talking to other people and things like that.”

The idea of offering smaller measures will come with the added pressure to prioritize certain projects over others. “When we’re deciding what we want to do, how do we decide which schools we’re gonna rebuild when they’re already packed?” Director Kate Espy asked. “So, these are going to be really hard decisions, and I think it’s very important to, like you said Tim, (be) totally transparent hearing what the community says but also making sure that our kids have the best facilities.”