It’s time for South Kitsap to properly fund its schools | In Our Opinion

South Kitsap School District’s board of directors once again is appealing to district voters: It’s time to invest in our schools, our children and our community.

A Feb. 14 special election ballot measure, Proposition 2, asks voters to approve a $172 million bond measure that will address not only school overcrowding at the secondary level, but will provide students with a more suitable learning environment by constructing a second comprehensive high school in the district. The benefits of having another high school are obvious: smaller campuses at South Kitsap High School and a new building, more individualized attention for students and added opportunities for them to excel.

The bond measure would cost homeowners an estimated $1.56 per $1,000 of an assessed home’s value over 21 years. An owner of a home valued at $250,000 would pay $32.50 a month, or $390 a year. This is a cost-effective investment for the community; it is a down payment to creating a top-notch educational system here that’s attractive not only to young families lured by South Kitsap’s enticing lifestyle, but small businesses drawn to the area’s growing demographics and economic potential.

For taxpayers, it’d be a new-found benefit. New businesses and a growing sales base would help generate tax revenue that would take the financial pressure off residential property owners who are shouldering a big portion of the area’s tax load.

Proposition 2 is the district’s first step in its Long Range Capital Facilities Plan to address its aging schools. The board of directors has long understood the truism that “deferred maintenance is false economy.” While the district’s maintenance crew has done an admirable job keeping on top of maintenance issues, repairs and replacement needs are becoming more frequent and costly.

Unlike other school districts in the region, including neighboring Central Kitsap, it’s not as if South Kitsap has been on a building spree. The last bond issue approved by voters used to build three district schools was approved nearly 30 years ago. It’s ironic that those very schools are reaching the end of their designed lifetime. South Kitsap’s schools uniformly have reached senior citizen status: their bones are aching, their mechanical systems are worn and inefficient, and they’re woefully inadequate to accommodate technology and instructional advances only dreamed about even 20 years ago.

Since our schools are aging — each one is old enough to qualify for state construction funding assistance — if the bond measure is approved by voters, the district will receive $10.8 million in state matching funds.

During the district’s community outreach meetings this winter, SKSD administrators and board directors heard constituents say they also wanted bond money to go to existing school buildings, including South Kitsap High. With that in mind, district officials will allocate bond funding to make improvements at every district school, including upgrading security systems to secure school entrances, updating electrical service and fire systems, and enhancing parking lots to make them safer for children arriving and leaving school grounds.At South Kitsap High, in addition to those bond-funded upgrades, dollars will be allocated to upgrade its community pool at the high-school site.

Also on the ballot is Proposition 1, which asks voters to renew an existing levy that funds 22 percent of the district’s operational and programs budget, and pays for more than 150 staff positions. Property owners won’t see a change in their tax rates, with is estimated at $3.73 per $1,000 of a home’s assessed value. A $250,000 home would be assessed at $78 per month, the same rate as before.

While the state’s school funding mechanism is broken (the state Legislature is still grappling with the issue), levies like the one SKSD is putting before voters are the only way at present to bridge the gap in state and federal funding. And as it is, those sources haven’t kept pace with inflation, a growing population and unfunded state mandates.

We recognize some citizens, especially seniors who must make do on fixed incomes, find the bond request to be burdensome. But the school district said there are two programs — a senior tax exchange and county tax exemption — that might help relieve them of that tax obligation.

These educational funding requests from the school district are reasonable, required and timely. Voters must come together to take on their shared responsibility and approve them. Our students and the South Kitsap community will benefit from that decision for years to come.

We recommend a vote to approve Proposition 1 and 2 on your Feb. 14 mail-in ballot. If you’re a registered voter within the school district boundaries, your ballot should be in your hands by now.

Complete your ballot and mail it in today.