Our Voice: School bonds in Pasco, Richland opportunities to support kids

January 23, 2013 

Richland and Pasco are both running school bonds in February. Your ballot will be in your mailbox this week.

Each district has different needs, but in general terms, voters need to understand the difference good schools make in their community -- whichever community that is.

Yes, bonds cost money. That's true. If you own a home, your tax rate will go up if the bond passes.

On the other hand, if the bonds fail, your property value may drop. Good schools attract new businesses and bring people to the area. Businesses provide jobs and pay taxes.

Also educated citizens have less need for incarceration or social services. Schools are expensive. Jails cost more.

From a strictly economic standpoint, approving school bonds saves you money, protects the investment in your property and makes your neighborhood safer.

Both districts are counting on matching money from the state. That money is available now. It may not be later.

Pasco

Pasco's biggest problem is that schools are overcrowded. Everywhere.

If you've been in the area for more than just a few years, you probably can remember when there was open desert where thousands of homes now stand in west Pasco. Many of those homes house school-aged children.

In the Pasco School District, both high schools, all three middle schools and nearly all the elementary schools are operating at overcapacity. (The two elementary schools that aren't overcrowded are only a few students short of their limit.)

The Pasco School District uses 191 portable classrooms. That boggles our minds.

The proposed bond would build three new elementary schools -- big elementary schools. It also would relocate New Horizons alternative school, make improvements at older schools and purchase land for future schools -- as long as the money holds out.

The district is holding down costs by using the "Pasco school design." Rather than design each school individually, the district keeps building the same school over and over, saving money on architectural designs.

Plans call for shifting the district's more than 1,000 sixth graders from middle school to elementary school once the new schools open, extending the life of the middle schools.

Two years ago, Pasco brought a bond to the voters. It was soundly defeated. The district then seriously considered either multi-track, year-round schooling or double shifting -- some kids go to school in the morning and others in the afternoon.

Those options still are on the table. The district tells us these program are more expensive than traditional schools.

The district is asking for a $46.8 million bond at a cost of 34 cents per $1,000 assessed value. State matching funds should kick in $38 million.

This sounds like a bargain for Pasco voters.

Richland

It's been a while since the Richland district has asked voters to approve a bond. It's been too long, in fact.

While Richland doesn't have the same overcrowding problem as its neighbor across the river, it has several portables and some children are bused from their home school across town to wherever there is room for them.

But the biggest problem facing the Richland district is the age of their schools.

The "three sisters," Lewis and Clark Elementary, Marcus Whitman Elementary and Sacajawea Elementary, are all more than 40 years old. These schools should have been replaced years ago. They certainly can't go much longer.

A lot has changed since the 1970s. For example, these schools were built the same year VCRs and microprocessors were invented. And they're older than Post-It notes, word processors or, for video game enthusiasts, Pong.

Additionally, another elementary school is needed to house a growing population.

Richland's bond will build four new elementary schools. It also will take care of the ailing heating/air conditioning system at Chief Joseph Middle School, provide a permanent home for the hundreds of children who participate in HomeLink and make some needed safety improvements at Fran Rish Stadium.

There has been at least an inkling of sentiment that voters should reject the bond because of concerns over the controversy surrounding the superintendent. We have one word for that line of thinking: What?

No, these are different issues. Completely.

The Richland bond asks for $98 million in local dollars, increasing the tax rate by 34 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The district is expecting $32 million in state matching funds.

Now is the right time to build these schools.

The Tri-City Herald Editorial Board recommends approving the Richland and Pasco school bond measures.

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