PORT ORCHARD — At the invitation of the Port Orchard City Council, South Kitsap School District residents were given an opportunity to see a presentation by Superintendent Karst Brandsma that outlined the district’s two propositions — one a bond measure, the other a capital projects levy — that voters will consider when they cast their ballots on Nov. 6.
At the end of Brandsma’s pitch, district residents who attended the hearing had their chance to voice their opinions. Predictably, their views were mixed, with a handful taking issue with the school board’s November election propositions.
The $184 million bond measure — Proposition 1 on the ballot — would fund construction of a second comprehensive high school in the South Kitsap School District that would house approximately 1,500 students in grades 9-12. According to school district officials, the 240,000-square-foot building would address crowding and safety concerns at both the new campus and the existing South Kitsap High School.
A second measure — Proposition 2 — is a $21-million capital projects levy that would address areas Brandsma said the district has identified in which it is deficient: safety and security, capital project renovations and technology upgrades.
Brandsma said the district received about 800 responses earlier this year to a survey from parents, staff and community members concerning school facility needs and challenges. One of their concerns, not surprisingly, was about raising taxes.
“Our community is sensitive to tax increases,” the superintendent reminded those attending the public hearing. With a revamping of the state education funding formula by the Legislature last session, Brandsma said the combined state and local property tax and levy assessments that owners will pay if the bond and levy measures pass the 60-percent-plus-one vote threshold in November will remain at the level they paid in 2017.
Property owners are paying $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value for the current voter-approved educational programs levy — a level that was capped as a result of the McCleary legislative compromise. If the bond is approved, property owners will pay an estimated tax rate of $1.07 per $1,000 of assessed home value over 25 years. The capital projects levy will cost about $0.67 per $1,000 of assessed value over four years. Combined with the existing educational programs levy tax, the district said property owners will continue to pay the 2017 rate of $3.24, even after approval of the two measures in November.
Despite Brandsma’s reassurances, a few of the citizens offering their opinions at the hearing said they remain opposed to Proposition 1. Jeff Daily of Port Orchard told district officials in attendance and the City Council that while “nobody is against education … the question is, does this [propositions] solve the problem?”
He said families living in the McCormick Woods area and landowners there, where the proposed new high school would be built on land adjacent to Old Clifton Road, would be the sole beneficiaries of the bond measure. Daly said approximately 1,500 single-family housing building permits are sitting in the city’s Community Development queue awaiting approval “the minute this is approved.”
He continued: “The only people who are going to benefit are the 1,500 families who’ll live in new housing that will be started if the new high school is built. This is not the right solution.
“If McCormick Woods wants a high school — great. McCormick Woods can pay for the high school, then we can use our money to expand South Kitsap High School.”
Another speaker, Larry Mitchell, questioned why the proposed new high school would be so expensive to build. He claimed the cost would make the school the fifth-most-expensive in the country and asserted that the average cost of a new 1,000-student high school in the U.S. is about $46 million.
South Kitsap School District board member Greg Wall, however, challenged Mitchell’s statistics.
“The cost of our high school is comparable to or a little bit less than the amount Central’s [Kitsap School District] are coming in,” Wall said of that district’s current school facility construction work. “They are surprisingly expensive, but that’s the cost to build schools.”
Wall said the McCormick Woods area is where the district growth is happening.
“Our school district student population is growing by leaps and bounds … We’re creeping up to 10,000 kids.”
Gerry Harman of Port Orchard said she supported the school district’s plan for a new high school.
“Schools are built where the population grows,” she said, “We need to get a new high school. We need more new schools that aren’t leaking, that have technology … You bring more people [into a community] when you have good schools. I can’t understand why somebody would be proud of 30 years of not passing a bond issue.”
As the public hearing neared conclusion, Wall asked the City Council members for their endorsement of the twin ballot measures. The council has scheduled an endorsement vote at its Sept. 25 regularly scheduled meeting.