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Tacoma School District to request $500 million for new schools in February vote

Post by Debbie Cafazzo / The News Tribune on Nov. 1, 2012 at 11:06 pm with 54 Comments »
November 1, 2012 11:06 pm

More than a dozen new or remodeled schools could be on the drawing boards for Tacoma kids, if voters approve a $500 million bond measure Feb. 12.

The Tacoma School Board, which had been discussing the bond proposal for several weeks, made it official Thursday night. After tweaking ballot language, they agreed to send the request for funding to voters.
If they approve, the school district will fund 14 major projects and a string of smaller improvements at schools across Tacoma.

Among the planned improvements:
• Modernization of Wilson High School, originally built in 1958. The first phase of a modernization project was completed in 2007, but older parts of the campus are in need of updates, school officials and parents say.
• A permanent home for the Science and Math Institute (SAMI). The small high school has been housed in temporary portable classrooms at Point Defiance Park since it opened in 2009.
• New buildings to replace two West End schools the district closed in recent years: Wainwright Elementary and Hunt Middle School.
• Modernization of two historic schools: McCarver Elementary in the Hilltop neighborhood and Stewart Middle School on Pacific Avenue.

District officials say historically low interest rates, combined with the possibility of refinancing existing school district debt, could save taxpayers money. Property owners currently pay a total tax rate of just over $7 per $1,000 of assessed property value to the Tacoma School District. That includes an operations levy, a short-term capital levy and existing bond debt.

If the February bond measure passes, the tax rate would rise to just over $7.80 per $1,000 through 2020, school officials say. If it fails, taxes are projected to rise to $8.63 per $1,000 by 2016.

Approval of the bond would give the school district the ability to fold short-term debt from a capital levy approved in 2010 into longer-term bond financing.

To pass, the February bond proposal needs to win approval from a supermajority of 60 percent of voters.

Leave a comment Comments → 54
  1. tacomajoe says:
  2. kmac609 says:

    With the headline reading Febuary on the front page I thing we had all better vote for schools.

  3. tree_guy says:

    Tacoma doesn’t need a SAMI school. This is a want, not a need.

    We also don’t need to replace Wainright or Hunt. We’re doing OK without these facilities.

    The remaining work on Wilson and the other minor upgrades should have a price tag far below $500M.

    With property taxes at $15.77 per thousand, this isn’t the time to add to the burden.

  4. gonefishin69690 says:

    No, voters are on strike when it comes to school levys

  5. BobDobilina says:

    Now why would we throw money away at educating our youth when so much money can be made by sending our uneducated youth off to military action around the world and by incarcerating them in private penal institutions here at home?

    Mr. Dobilina

  6. tree_guy says:

    Don’t believe that business about 80 cents, this levy will cost families dearly.

    Here’s the math:

    $500,000,000 divided by 200,000 residents in Tacoma is $2500 per resident. A family of four will be on the hook for $10,000.

  7. gonefishin69690 says:

    Charter schools –Yes.

  8. nwcolorist2 says:

    Before making any decisions, let’s read the fine print and see how much is earmarked for non-capital expense items.

  9. barrysoetoro says:

    This just proves that the tacoma school board is tone-deaf to the average taxpayers cries of relief

  10. I went to Wainwright, Hunt and Wilson… Every one of those schools needs a major improvement. Even the new upgrades to Wilson are nice… But the other half of the school needs the upgrade too. Please look at it from the Kids stand point. Those of you who are making it a political issue don’t realize the importance of the improvements needed. And I went there in the early 90’s and it was bad… THE KIDS NEED THIS NOW!!!

  11. tacomajoe says:

    After reading this article and how dopey the school board is, all voters should vote yes.

    On 1240.

  12. the3rdpigshouse says:

    Hey – if you socialist democrats think it is a good idea to elecet or reelect a marxist/socialist as POTUS – go ask him for some of the “stash”!!! No school levies approved here!!

  13. They only need to be updated because they don’t maintain them.

  14. MrCarleone says:

    Are you serious ?

    After the Taj Mahal you built at Mt. Tahoma, there is no way in he– that you will get our vote!

    The Tacoma School Board is absolutely clueless, and its long past time to hit them between the eyes!

  15. MrCarleone says:

    BTW, TPS, I was seriously thninking of NOT voting for the Charter Schools.

    Glad that I did !

  16. stradivari says:

    Schools get extremely hard usage simply because of the large number of bodies they serve. They wear out. Systems in 80 year old structures like Stewart and McCarver need to be brought up to date. Tacoma Schools have been on a good course modernizing its inventory of buildings. Continue. Better places to learn make Tacoma a better place to live.

  17. stradivari says:

    Fortunately most Tacoma voters are analytical and positive, and not anal cynics. They have traditionally understood the great value of education, well built, safe ,functioning schools. Voters always come through for the kids and the community. They will once again support our democratically elected school board of directors and the needs of our children.

  18. boonewrites says:

    Where’s the FULL LIST of projects this bond would include? I thought Grant was going to be on this list???

  19. dg54321 says:

    Voted yes for charter schools, will be voting no to any levies or tax increases. It’s clear government cannot spend the money effectively, and throwing more money into a ever-widening pit will not fix the problems, it will simply make us more broke than we already are while those in charge laugh all the way to the bank. Private industry is the way to go. At least they have to answer to someone when they blow the money on poor decisions.

  20. tree_guy says:

    Stradivari, are you an employee of the school distict, and if so, is it in your job description to call the citizens who disagree with you “anal cynics?” Hard to believe an educated person would write like this.

  21. tomwa007 says:

    And who is paying for this “Special Election”?

  22. gonefishin69690 says:

    Tree_guy, i thought the same thing exactly.

  23. gonefishin69690 says:

    stradivari, If you changed the words “kids” and “children” to “teachers”, and the word “voters” to unions, then I would agree with everything you wrote.

  24. NO!!!!!!!!!!!! If you increase my property taxes AGAIN, the tax base will go DOWN, because my home will be foreclosed.

    IDIOTS; we are currently in the worst economy of my 55 years on this planet & they keep asking for more taxes that renters with children will pass.

  25. BTW, my escrow monthly payment increased TWICE in 2012.

  26. sonicsboy says:

    Tree_guy: It’s a good thing that these taxes aren’t assessed per resident, then, isn’t it? Taxes are assessed – as it says in the story – per $1,000 of property value. The average property value in Tacoma was $198,419 in 2010, with an average tax rate at approximately $14.45 in 2011 (http://wwwb.thenewstribune.com/property/taxes/ – scroll to the bottom), about half of which, according to this story, goes to TPS. 198,419/1000 = 198.419. 14.45 (current tax rate) + .80 (estimated tax raise if this bond passes)= 15.25. 198.419×15.25 = 3025.88 – nowhere near the $10,000 you suggested.

  27. sonicsboy says:

    Now, seeing as I don’t live in Tacoma, nor do I vote in Pierce County, I’m neither for nor against this bond. I just wanted to keep the facts straight.

  28. tacomajoe says:

    Stradivari, the good citizens of Tacoma do understand the “great value of education, well built, safe ,functioning schools.” That’s why we’re voting to throw as many bums on the school board out as we can, voting for charter schools, and against overpriced levies that will only bolster bureaucracies and contractor profits, not the schools themselves. Voters “came through for the kids and the community” in the last election by dumping an inept school board member, and we’re licking our chops to get rid of the other underperformers.

  29. gonefishin69690 says:

    @tacomajoe, well said

  30. Tax increases will be crammed down our throats no matter what we think or do. So just vote for the stupid levy and let our children still be dumber than ever because shiny schools don’t make teachers better. Higher pay for teachers bring better teachers.

  31. TacomaVinnie says:

    tree_guy, schools are a want, not a need? Got it.

  32. tree_guy says:

    Sonicboy, since facts are important to you perhaps you should incorporate the following fact into your analysis. This is an 8 year bond lasting from 2013 until 2020, not a one year bond.

    Also my tax rate in Tacoma is $15.77 per thousand. I own several properties around town. I don’t know where the Tribune got that $14.45 figure. Go to the assessor’s website and look at your own property tax rate if you don’t believe me.

  33. cclngthr says:

    People simply do not understand the requirements of using state and federal funds. Specific requirements have to be adhered to when tax funding is used for a service. Congress and federal courts, including the US Supreme Court over the past 50 years has guaranteed no civil rights will be violated with agencies using tax funding.

    Buildings MUST be accessible in all areas by users, staff and clients. This is a condition of accessibility. The tax funding also has a condition that all people must be able to use such service.

    School is mandatory. If parents are not showing proof of education of said children, the state can take over and place the children in an educational facility.

  34. serendipity says:

    Voted yes on Charter Schools.

    Will fight to stop this lie that they need more money for better buildings when the job is not being done well in any building.

  35. BigSwingingRichard says:

    Why should taxpayers overpay their property taxes in this economy when the striking Tacoma school teachers did not support the school system, the kids, the parents or taxpayers?

    Now is the time for taxpayers to let the striking teachers know how YOU feel about their illegal strike by “striking down” this $500,000,000 tax increase.

    Let’s call it accountability for your own actions, teachers.

  36. cclngthr says:


    Charter schools also have to be in buildings that comply with federal law and such use of tax funding has specific requirements of how that money is used.

    Denials of services cannot be done due to lack of access or no appropriate program availability.

    Courts will see that the use of tax funds do not discriminate against anyone.

  37. MrCarleone says:


    Well said, and agree completely!

  38. stradivari says:

    Tre guy and Tacoma Joe. I am not a school employee, just a civic minded citizen who sees reckless cynicism as being destructive. Joe, it is difficult to vote out out Tacoma school board members you don’t like because there are five of them and they have six-year staggerd terms of office. (Same as Spokane and , I think, Everett.) All other Washington state school boards have four year staggerd terms by state law making it easier to remove those who are ineffective. Tacoma was grandfathered yo 6 when the legislature changed the law state wide to four years. Six years does seem to be a long time before a school trustee has to answer. Talk to your representative and senator and school board member about making Tacoma uniform with the rest of the state.

  39. pjennifer says:

    Where is the rate increase for the teachers. They put up with a lot and pull money out of their own pockets to help students due to not enough funding. Where’s that? $500M is a big ticket for the locations mentioned.

  40. cclngthr says:


    If you feel schools are a want, not a need, why then are we required to send children to school by law? School is compulsory; in other words, educating kids is a mandatory thing. Society has to do this as a whole.

    At the same time, there are civil rights we must follow, which are constitutional in nature. All publically funded agencies must not discriminate against any person.

    Statements regarding discrimination are required, and include the following: The district complies with all federal rules and regulations and does not discriminate on the basis of race, creed, color, national origin, sex, veteran or military status, sexual orientation, gender expression or identity, disability or the use of trained dog guide or service animal.

    If you feel you can require buildings to be non-compliant, you will end up losing big time.

  41. Frankly123 says:

    Woah! Okay, when I first saw this headline I thought “Are they nuts! No way would I support this!” Then I settled down, read the previous 40 comments and thought about it some more. Low rates = Very good; Modernizing and updating old schools = Very good; Refinancing older debt = maybe okay; Saving Taxpayers money = Excellent! Trusting School Board members = highly unlikely.

    So, for me, that balances out to a big MAYBE supporting a significantly lessor amount than $500M. What can I get for $200M? I’d need more specific details, in writing and with Board Members jobs on the line to consider voting for this. For instance when they say “New buildings to replace… Wainwright Elementary and Hunt” they actually mean rebuild Whittier Elementary, sell off the Wainwright property and really rebuild Hunt like they said previously, then I can see that. It is a very tough time and normally I’d say wait, but rates are good and many schools are truly outdated and in need of updating/replacing. So, Many of the comments above are valid in not trusting or supporting TPS admin, but that doesn’t diminish the need that exists.

  42. cclngthr says:

    Stewart and Washington are non-compliant in accessibility, and federal laws do require agencies to use buildings that are current to present code. A lot of people think buildings built before current codes are fine; but the laws clearly require agencies to use buildings all people can access whether wheelchair or walking.

    Another issue people seem to forget is when upgrades are done, building code requires contractors to upgrade everything; structure, HVAC, plumbing and electrical.

    Sure, rates are low right now, and it is better to secure bonds when rates are low; even including refinancing current bonds to the lower rate.

    Regarding non-trust of the administration; I think someone else might not do any better than who is currently doing the job. Schools are mandated by law to follow specific laws, and people complain that schools are not teaching like they used to; but back then, schools only taught white non-disabled people. Disabled people were institutionalized or hid from society because society did not want them in the mainstream. Black people also were denied an education as well because society believed white folk were superior to black folk and black people were separated from mainstream society because white non-disabled people did not want society to include anyone else.

  43. Frankly123 says:

    My comment was meant to show that I’m gonna need the SB to earn my trust and start a little smaller. Prove to me they can plan and budget better. If that means re-prioritizing with less funds and updating the most critical areas, then so be it. I’m just not willing to sign a blank check (or huge one). In 2010 we passed a levy thinking Hunt was going to be rebuilt. Yadda yadda yadda, politics, OSPI etc and it was closed instead. That’s affected my trust in the SB. I know there is need in many places but I can’t speak to every school, just those I’m familiar with. I also don’t need a civics, building code or history lesson.

  44. ltkeffer says:

    let’s see, the overall tax rate goes down, 14 or so buildings get rebuilt, the higher priced levy debt is refinanced to lower interest rate debt, the project is a 10 year plan for local work on local building by local contracters and local workers. The money stays in our local economy. The kids get new buildings and new technology and the community gets new fields, gyms, and facilities to utilize for enjoyment.

    How is this a bad thing?

    None of this money goes to teacher salaries, none of it addresses that issue.

    This bond adds to improving our economy.

    Just think, if you fail this bond your tax rate will increase not decrease….

  45. ltkeffer says:

    Frankly123 – pay attention… Hunt is part of the 14 schools to be rebuilt.

  46. Frankly123 says:

    I was paying attention, just like in 2010 when they said they were gonna rebuilt Hunt then. Fool me once….. I’m not sure that “…14 major projects…” equates to 14 schools exactly. That’s some of the specifics I was referring to earlier. I’m not opposed to investing in our school system but that doesn’t mean those in charge are proposing the best solutions. Surely we all know politicians, and that’s what SB members are, promise a lot, ask for a lot and often deliver less. That’s not entirely cynicism, that’s experience and observation. Still, I believe the schools need capital improvements but I think there’s money to be trimmed from some areas and still have many of those improvements.

  47. jmpurser says:

    Looks like sound long term planning on the part of the school board though I agree with another poster that we need the details on the bill to see how the money is allocated between capital expenses and “other”.

    IMHO any money spent on schools should be accepted by default unless sound reasons to reject it can be found. I’ve seen nothing in the other comments that suggest such a reason has turned up.

  48. tree_guy says:

    You want a sound reason for rejecting?

    Here it is: Tacoma doesn’t need a SAMI school. It never did need one and all the students currently enrolled there could be taught in other traditional facilities. We’re in the middle of a long term down trend in the economy and the sooner the board sobers up and makes a reasonable attempt to scale back district facilities, the better.

  49. slasmith says:

    Why do we need half a billion dollars to remodel closed school buildings that we don’t need based on student population levels in the district?

  50. truthbusterguy says:

    Why are tax increases always the only first option?

    One half of a BILLION dollars!!!!! The school board is no longer sensitive to the cost of anything. They throw around millions like it’s small change. They are taking lessons from obama when it comes to spending.

    Not a penny more to fund government building projects until laws are changed that allow for fair contracting of these jobs and removal of the prevailing wage requirements. Taxpayers will be charged 25% more because of Fair Labor Standards laws which is code for UNIONS WIN and they kick back to DEMOCRATS.

    When I build my deck I am not required to pay union thug wages, why are taxpayers required to pay 25% more and get nothing better out of it.

    Sorry Tacoma schools. Use your energy to change laws and get the state to fund schools instead of funding health care for illegals.

    This will fail and I will start working on NO votes today. I look forward to joining the organized resistance to this huge tax increase.

  51. cclngthr says:


    What you don’t get is schools have to comply with accessibility standards. Schools must be accessible to all people by federal law.

    You also think SAMI is not needed. However SAMI and SOTA are schools that offer alternatives to how teachers teach than a traditional alternative school and comprehensive high schools. SOTA is a school that infuses arts i.e. music, drama, art, into the standard content. Regular schools cannot do this.

    You also want schools to operate as they did, which they cannot. You want schools to deny education to all people that are not white and disabled. Schools once were doing this as late as 1975.

  52. cclngthr says:


    When building that deck, you are required by building code to build that deck in a certain manner. You cannot shortcut things because you want to save a buck here and there. You also don’t know if that contractor is union or non union.

    I also suppose you want to eliminate state and federal minimum wage requirements as well.

    Your greed is showing when you want to shortcut things just to save money. Some things cannot be shortchanged. Xlcertain obligations must be met in order for that program to pass inspection.

  53. A lot of people are tired of the bonds, but it’s all part of this cycle we are in statewide. Most of the schools in the state were built during the mid twentieth century population boom, and they were built pretty cheaply. (Still probably the right call at the time, with the number of kids they had to find space for.) Just about all of these buildings have reached their expiration dates, in addition to the older buildings of the early twentieth century that need major modernization/retrofitting.

  54. Frankly123 says:

    What in the world are you talking about? You must be referring to another commenter and not me. I mentioned nothing about SAMI or SOTA or disabilities, special needs and accessibility nor did I talking about anything that I wanted from the School District except specifics before I vote to support a massive levy. I suggested that a smaller levy might earn some trust from me.

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