By BOB SMITH
Kitsap News Group
PORT ORCHARD — When South Kitsap School District voters cast their ballots in a special election Feb. 14 on whether to approve a programs and operations levy, they’ll also decide on a bond measure — for the third time in two years — to fund construction of a second comprehensive high school.
The district will be asking voters to approve a school maintenance and operations levy that is collected through property taxes over four years. If approved, the Proposition 1 levy will renew a measure approved in 2013 that will expire at the end of this year.
According to the school district, the levy would be collected in calendar years 2018 through 2021, supporting programs over five consecutive school years. The collection rate is estimated to be $3.73 per $1,000 assessed value of property. The district said that this rate is 13 cents less than the approved rate in 2017, which is $3.86.
The levy amount is expected to total $24,300,846 in the collection year of 2018 and would top off at $25,520,460 in the 2021 collection year.
The levy requires a simple voter majority to pass.
School district leaders also are seeking approval of a $172,621,300 capital project bond measure — labeled Proposition 2 — authorizing the district to sell 21-year-term bonds to finance construction of a second comprehensive high school. The bond measure also is to provide $41,496,727 to upgrade each school’s safety, security and health systems.
In addition, $1,839,502 would be authorized for improvements to the district’s swimming pool at South Kitsap High School.
Interim School Superintendent Karst Brandsma said the district anticipates receiving $8,819,720 in construction assistance from state matching funds for the high school construction project. The pool improvement project is expected to get $2 million state funding, as well. The security and pool upgrades were added to this year’s construction bond proposal.
“This bond has a little something for everybody,” said Greg Wall, president of the district’s board of directors.
“We have a lot of needs in the district, but the community told us in our public meetings that they wanted more projects for the existing schools, especially the existing high school.
“Our buildings are well-maintained and we have an excellent facilities staff, but there’s only so much you can do to them.”
Every physical system in the district is past its life cycle, said Tom Adams, district director of facilities and operations.
“You can’t really do preventative maintenance on something that’s past that stage,” he said.
“You never know when it’s going to fail. And when it does, it’s always expensive, and you have to take money from somewhere else to fix it. That’s been a real tough thing for us.”
Another reason that’s driving the push for projects separate from building a new high school, Brandsma said, is to provide the community with a sense that every school is important to the district.
“Our community members told us they didn’t want to create a group of haves and have-nots. They like the idea of two comprehensive high schools. They like our plans for safety and security improvements. And they wanted something more than just helping the rich kids in McCormick Woods.
“They wanted something tangible, and that’s what we tried to provide.”
Brandsma, whose contract as interim superintendent has been extended for an additional year by the school board, said the temptation was to follow the footsteps of Central Kitsap School District and ask taxpayers to fund needed projects that could cost as much $220 million.
“But we felt like this was our best step,” he said. “These were all the things the community told us they wanted and could support.”
Brandsma said a second high school would help relieve overcrowding, which he said is a result of increased enrollment, all-day kindergarten that has doubled the need for classrooms and the district’s efforts to reduce kindergarten through third-grade class sizes.
The district also has begun implementing the 9-12th-grade high school configuration, which has become the standard education model throughout the state.
The change has put pressure on overcrowding at South Kitsap High. The school construction project will help the district reach its goal of creating smaller high schools, Wall said.
He noted that nationwide studies have shown that smaller educational communities improve student achievement, school climate, increase attendance and elevate teacher satisfaction.
The safety and security component of the bond measure will improve the ability of schools to control access to their buildings by outsiders, Adams said. The security system will include door-lock and door-opening mechanisms to control entry into schools. Visitors would be directed to front offices before they could get access to the rest of the school.
Securing South Kitsap High will be a challenge, Wall said.
“It has a million entrances, and they’re open most of the time,” he added.
“Plus, high-schoolers are in and out throughout the day going to Running Start and other programs.”
The new high-school plan also would optimize a more secure building by funneling visitors to the front desk for sign-in and credentials, he said.
Community members also indicated to school officials that they would prefer just one district swimming pool, not two, but would like to see upgrades made to South Kitsap’s facility.
Adams said the county health department has been urging the district to improve pool lighting so that the safety of swimmers could be better ensured. The cost to build a second pool in the district was a pricey proposition to community members, as well as the school board.
“The board looked at a price tag of $27 million,” Brandsma surmised, “and thought that the community could get by with one pool.”
Brandsma acknowledged that the district’s efforts to build a second high school has been difficult.
Two bond measures failed by the barest of margins to reach a supermajority approval percentage of 60 percent and one vote. But working in favor of the district is that it does not carry any bond debt, unlike neighboring school district.
But there has been pushback from some parts of the community who protest that passage of the bond would mean hardship for seniors on a fixed income.
The superintendent said that a program has been put into place where a senior can volunteer 20 hours of their time to the school district and receive a tax waiver.
Wall said residents should consider the benefits of shared responsibility to build and maintain good schools in the community, which he said are primary draws for young families with good incomes who are looking for a place to live.
When election ballots are received in the mail, the board president said he hopes voters will be motivated to do their civic duty and vote.