Pasco School Board OKs $46.4M bond for February ballot

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldSeptember 26, 2012 

The Pasco School Board agreed Tuesday to place a $46.4 million bond on the February ballot to pay for two new elementary schools, an early learning center and other construction projects.

If approved, the bond would allow the district to address overcrowding in many of its schools, though district officials acknowledged the new construction would not address future growth.

The decision followed the release of results from a recent survey of more than 3,900 district residents. More than 70 percent of respondents indicated support for a bond over other measures to address overcrowding in Pasco schools.

"I know this is not an easy decision, but it's something we need to do," said board Chairwoman Sherry Lancon.

Under the proposal, one elementary school would be built at Powerline Road and Road 52 and open for the 2014-15 school year. An early learning center for kindergartners would be built at Sandifur Parkway and Road 60, while another elementary school would be built near Whittier Elementary in east Pasco. Those two schools would open for the 2015-16 school year.

The district would move sixth-graders into elementary schools to reduce demand on middle school facilities. The bond also would include improvements to Stevens Middle School, construction of new science labs at Pasco High and the relocation of New Horizons High School.

The bond would cost property owners about 34 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value, which is less than the proposed 95-cent rate for a $59 million bond rejected by Pasco voters in 2011. District officials said the lower tax rate partially is a result of favorable interest rates.

Without a bond, the district would have to resort to a multi-track school year, which requires schools to operate year-round; or double-shifting students, which would have one group attend classes in the morning and another in the afternoon. District officials have said those two options would cost the district more money in the long run.

"The fact is, we're running out of space to put portable classrooms," said Superintendent Saundra Hill. "We cannot continue as we've been doing. We have to do something."

Almost three out of four survey respondents said the district should build schools rather than double-shift or have a multi-track school year.

Seventy percent said they'd support a new bond; 25 percent said they were undecided. One in four respondents said they attended prior information sessions on the bond, but 80 percent said they would want to attend one. Survey comments ranged from people asking how they could help to how to get more information.

Board members said the next few months will be tough. Lancon said she still hears from residents who don't know about the district's pursuit of a bond.

Also Tuesday:

w Board members approved a resolution and cooperative agreement aimed at building a facility for Delta High School.

Delta High is a science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, school jointly operated by the Pasco, Richland and Kennewick school districts. It has about 400 students on a campus near downtown Richland.

The districts are pursuing construction of a new school, with the state potentially providing up to 90 percent of the necessary dollars, after efforts by private partners and the Washington State STEM Foundation stalled.

w Board member Rubn Peralta said he visited board member Jeffery Dong, who is recovering from health problems and has not attended a board meeting in about a year.

"He's looking good. He's in good spirits," Peralta said. "He's looking forward to coming back in the near future."

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