SOUTH KITSAP — Emphasizing to district residents and voters that they are “all ears,” South Kitsap School District’s board of directors and administrators say they are open to comments and opinions from the community stakeholders as they consider future ballot measures to upgrade the district’s educational facilities.
District leaders will put that to the test beginning Wednesday, March 28, with an informational presentation called “SK 360 — School Facilities From Every Angle” at South Kitsap High School, where Superintendent Karst Brandsma and other state education leaders will give people in attendance a general overview of state education funding, the district’s facilities needs and a presentation they say will dispel “common myths” surrounding South Kitsap’s facilities issues.
The March 28 educational presentation at the high school begins at 6 p.m.
Then from April 16-27, as part of the SK 360 program, the school district will offer 90-minute informational tours of individual South Kitsap buildings during the school day. And, on a date to be scheduled, district and community participants will once again gather to “discuss a series of summarizing questions and provide valuable feedback on the future of South Kitsap facilities,” the district stated in a promotional flyer.
The district has labeled the informational campaign as involving “a large group representing the entire community, including, but not limited to, staff, parents, business owners, students, city and county leaders, service clubs and school support organizations.”
Brandsma spoke with reporters from the Independent earlier this month about the SK 360 initiative, saying that “we have an opportunity for our community to engage in what we think is a meaningful conversation around school facilities in the South Kitsap School District.”
He said district leaders will use the input from the community to look at school facilities “from every angle.” SK 360 was conceived, he said, in response to a large number of questions the district received from the community during the last bond measure in November, in which voters were asked to fund the construction of a second high school and integrate security mechanisms throughout many of South Kitsap’s facilities. For the third time in a year, the bond measure failed to reach the 60-percent approval threshold.
“I’m not quite sure [their questions] were either not answered sufficiently or they didn’t have a source they valued or trusted,” Brandsma said of district residents.
Brandsma said a common misconception is that the school district is resolute in its desire to build a second high school.
“We can’t afford to assume that we’ll go ahead with proposing another high school,” the superintendent said.
“We’ve got to have an open ear, honest dialogue and just listen. We have a large number of families that have attended school here that remain in the area, and their kids and grandkids are here now.
“It’s a generational community that stays put, so to speak. There’s some value to that … we have to be open-minded and look at all avenues and see what it is.”
Brandsma said, however, that, “What we can’t afford to do is have leaky roofs and not provide meaningful instruction based on the condition of the facilities. I think the non-negotiables are that the facilities have to be safe, it’s got to be secure and it’s got to be dry.”
There’s little doubt that South Kitsap’s school facilities have a ready list of to-do items. Every school in the district has passed the 20-year age mark, he said, which makes them eligible for state construction matching funds. Brandsma pointed to the Central Kitsap School District’s current facility construction upgrade work that is being partially paid for with state funding.
“Our high school needs some TLC,” Brandsma said.
“As you know, our pool is down. We have some safety and security needs. Clearly, at the mid-level, we’ve got three viable middle schools.
“The oldest, Cedar Heights, probably has the direst needs. You don’t have to walk long in the school to figure out that the kids that attend there, and the staff teaching there, are in a totally different facility than at Sedgwick and Marcus Whitman.
“And I think you only need to go through Mullenix [Elementary] to realize that those kids are in a palace compared to what’s going on in Sunnyslope or East Port Orchard, Olalla, Manchester and South Colby, where those schools are older and more tired.”
Brandsma recited a popular cultural reference to summarize the state of South Kitsap’s schools: “As the engineer in Star Trek used to say, ‘It won’t take much more, captain!’”
Brandsma said the March 28 meeting in the high school auditorium, which can accommodate approximately 300 people, will feature several keynote educational and budgetary experts, including longtime state Senate Ways & Means Committee Capital Budget staff member Brian Sims; Tom Ahearne, an insurance and constitutional lawyer who will discuss school funding matters related to the McCleary court decision that legislators grappled with during the just-completed state legislative session; Nick Brossoit, a former school superintendent with experience introducing new school facility projects; Brian Benzel, a former superintendent who is an expert on finance and school reform initiatives; and Lee Fenton, an architect and designer with experience in educational facility planning.
Port Orchard Mayor Rob Putaansuu and Sunnyslope Elementary Principal Lisa Fundane’t will facilitate the panel discussion.
Break-out sessions will take place afterward in the auditorium so that community members can engage in follow-up discussions, Brandsma said.
“It should be an exciting evening,” South Kitsap’s superintendent said.
“The informational portion will answer questions like, ‘Doesn’t the marijuana tax the state collects help build our schools, and why aren’t you using that?’ And, of course, it doesn’t, but some people think it does.”
He said district administrators are often asked why school districts and their communities are asked to build their facilities and repair them.
“We have folks from all around the state who can help answer that. They can show what other school districts and communities have done. It really opens it up to a good discussion.”
At the conclusion of the SK 360 series, said he hopes South Kitsap School District stakeholders will gain a better understanding of the state of its schools. And Brandsma said he hopes district board members and administrators will more clearly get a handle on if there’s a community consensus about the district’s needs.
“The thing I want citizens to get out of this is the concept that the district values what their input is,” Brandsma said.
“That we listen and that they can trust us to do what’s best in their interest, as well. I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a district that is as used to the extent that ours is.”
To register for the events, visit www.surveymonkey.com/r/F5YGMSW (Group ID: Superintendent), email the district at email@example.com or call 360-874-7005.