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Tacoma School Board delays its bond vote over ballot language

Post by Debbie Cafazzo / The News Tribune on Oct. 25, 2012 at 10:26 pm with No Comments »
October 25, 2012 10:30 pm

The Tacoma School Board was set to make it official Thursday night.

But last-minute questions over the wording of a ballot measure seeking $500 million for new and remodeled schools stopped the board from voting as planned.

Instead, they’ll come back in a week – at 6 p.m. Thursday Nov. 1 – with revised wording and give it another try.

Board members don’t need to finalize their bond request to voters until December. And voters won’t cast their ballots until a special election is held on Feb. 12. But there’s a sense of urgency, because bond supporters need time to launch a campaign to win the 60-percent supermajority of votes needed to pass the bond measure.

On Oct. 18, board members heard from students and parents at schools throughout the district that would benefit if the bond measure passes. They painted a picture of aging and inadequate facilities.

On Thursday, board members questioned the proposed ballot language, which says the school district would use the money “to replace or renovate 14 deteriorating neighborhood schools, including Wilson and SAMI.”
Board President Catherine Ushka questioned why Stewart Middle School – also on the list of 14 schools – isn’t mentioned. She said both Wilson High School and SAMI – the Science and Math Institute – are located near the city’s north end, while Stewart is closer to the south end.

Stewart Middle School

School officials said they worked with bond consultants to come up with the wording, and that the length of the ballot language is limited. The ballot measure also spells out a long list of improvements outside the major construction that would be financed by the $500 million, including projects to improve health and safety, security, playgrounds, energy efficiency and more at schools throughout the city.

Wilson is the only comprehensive high school on the list of 14 schools slated for improvements. SAMI, a small high school, is housed exclusively in portable classrooms at Point Defiance Park and the school district wants to build SAMI a permanent home if the bond measure passes.

Most of the 14 buildings on the list are elementary schools, and they are spread throughout the school district. The oldest, Washington-Hoyt Elementary, was first constructed in 1906. The newest, Boze Elementary, opened in 1969. Five schools on the list date from the 1920s, and a sixth, Grant Center for the Expressive Arts, opened in 1919.

But Ushka said that even though district officials may be aware that the major project list includes schools throughout the city, “most voters are not going to look it up.” She feared they might assume the only two major projects involve SAMI and Wilson.

Board member Karen Vialle agreed. She suggested changing ballot language to include Wilson and Stewart so that it reflected a better geographic balance. After more discussion, board members agreed to postpone their final vote until next week, when they will consider revised ballot wording.

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