Franklin County commissioners unanimously supported the Pasco School District's $46.8 million bond proposal Wednesday, but not without taking some sharp jabs at the district.
A resolution drafted and approved by the three commissioners called out the district for its handling of the bond, its finances and its pursuit of fees from residential construction.
The commissioners also called for a "thorough independent, unbiased study of multi-track school options in the district" and an independent review of school construction plans and costs.
The backhanded resolution was met with a swift rebuff from Pasco School Board President Sherry Lancon.
She said the document "clearly reflects the commission's lack of interest in gaining factual information prior to making decisions."
"This resolution draws assumptions that are biased, misleading and not based in fact and we are deeply disappointed," she said in a release.
"The district has met every request for information made by the commissioners and, in fact, information provided refutes many of the points in the resolution," she wrote.
County Commission Chairman Rick Miller and Commissioner Brad Peck said they initially didn't want to take a stance on the bond.
But when the Pasco Citizens for Better Schools asked commissioners to endorse the bond, they decided it wouldn't be appropriate to endorse the measure appearing on the Feb. 12 ballot without bringing up their concerns.
"We look to bring perspective and viewpoints and provide some enlightenment," Peck told the Herald.
The bond would pay for two new elementary schools and an early learning center along with some other projects, such as relocating New Horizons High School.
If approved, the new bond will cost taxpayers 34 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value, or $34 a year for a $100,000 home. The district also expects to receive about $38.1 million in state matching dollars for the projects.
District officials have said new schools are necessary to ease overcrowding and avoid alternative ways to resolve the problem, such as running schools year round but with students attending on different schedules, known as year-round multitrack, or having students attend classes in one of two six-hour shifts, called doubleshifting.
The commissioners' resolution said there is economic and educational efficacy to year-round multi-track operation of schools. They said the district was "irresponsible" in not clearly differentiating between it and doubleshifting.
Commissioners called the district's portrayal of receiving state matching dollars as a bonus with voter-approved bonds as "disingenuous since the state has no dollars to contribute except those it has already collected from local communities."
The resolution says the district's enrollment growth estimates should be scrutinized and district administrator salaries should be frozen, noting the county commissioners have frozen their own salaries for the next four years.
The resolution also sought the repeal of residential construction impact fees the district receives from the city of Pasco, saying they are "unjust, ineffective and negatively impact the economic well-being" of community members.
The resolution also noted that "the academic results and fiscal efficiency" of local private schools "consistently exceeds" local public schools "yet draws upon the same pool of available teachers."
Lancon shot back a strongly worded response late Wednesday afternoon.
The fact that Pasco schools are already crowded and that district salaries have been frozen since 2009 and employees had unpaid furlough days last year, "clearly demonstrate how completely out of touch our commissioners are with the reality of our schools," she wrote.
Lancon said the district is fiscally responsible and the state auditor has recognized the district for best practices in finances. Independent firms have studied the year-round multi-track option and the district also has sought input from the community.
She also criticized the commissioners for failing to act on their request to impose impact fees on new home construction to help pay for schools.
"For the past two years the district has been waiting for the commission to act on a request for impact fees and has yet to receive any formal response or public hearing on the issue," she wrote.
"Vote it up or down, but bring it to the people to decide," she said.
Commissioner Rick Miller told the Herald that he thought the final resolution, which all three commissioners contributed to, had "too many negatives" but he stood by approving it over a simple endorsement of the bond. He said he would likely vote for the bond himself.
"We believe in the school system but just like in all government we have to watch the budget," he said.
Peck said he and the other commissioners raised their concerns on all these issues with the district in the past.
"We've had multiple discussions with them beforehand in detail," he said. "This is hardly new ground."
The Pasco City Council endorsed the bond with a 5-1 vote Tuesday night. Councilman Bob Hoffmann was the lone dissenting vote, saying voters can come to their own conclusions on the bond and the council shouldn't be involved.
Pasco Citizens for Better Schools asked the county and city for the endorsements. Committee Chairman Mike Miller said he and other committee members would review the county resolution at a meeting on Monday.
"We think there needs to be some clarifications," he told the Herald. "We would have liked to see a more positive message."
-- Reporter Michelle Dupler contributed to this story.
-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @_tybeaver
FRANKLIN COUNTY RESOLUTION NO. 2013 025
BEFORE THE BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS
FRANKLIN COUNTY, WASHINGTON
REGARDING THE PROPOSED 2013 PASCO SCHOOL BOND MEASURE
WHEREAS this resolution reflects the Franklin County Board of Commissioners commitment to broad and unbiased assessments of important matters prior to passing formal resolutions of support; and
WHEREAS, the Franklin County Board of Commissioners recognizes the significant economic and social advantages created and enjoyed by an educated populous; and
WHEREAS, school district population growth estimates used to support the bond request deserve added scrutiny since they are being used to promote the bond measure yet exceed our community's record-setting growth of the past decade; and
WHEREAS, the entire community benefits in widely varying degrees from quality educational programs and facilities; and
WHEREAS the economic and educational efficacy of year-round multi-track schooling has been demonstrated in numerous school districts in the United States; and
WHEREAS, the deleterious effects of double-shift educational programs is widely acknowledged in the United States; and
WHEREAS multi-track year-round schooling and double-shift programs are radically different approaches and failure to clearly and consistently delineate one from the other in all bond discussions is irresponsible; and
WHEREAS the Board of Commissioners believes school impact fees are unjust, ineffective, and negatively impact the economic wellbeing of our local home buyers, construction workers, their families and small business; and
WHEREAS, intimating that "matching" state dollars are a bonus associated with passing a local bond measure is disingenuous since the state has no dollars to contribute except those it has already collected from communities; and
WHEREAS, the immense generosity of the citizens of Pasco and Franklin County is reflected in the city's distinction of already having the highest self-imposed voter-approved taxes in the state of Washington; and
WHEREAS the state constitution says "It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders...;" and
WHEREAS the Pasco School District has an equivalent "paramount duty" to maximize the use of resources already provided by our citizens, including an unmitigated perpetual obligation to improve operating efficiencies; and
WHEREAS the Franklin County Board of Commissioners has frozen its own salaries for the next four years and encourages the school district to do the same with administrator salaries; and
WHEREAS, the cost of new schools constructed in the district routinely exceeds the national average for similar size new schools; and
WHEREAS the academic results and fiscal efficiency of our community's privately funded schools consistently exceeds that of our publicly funded local schools yet draws upon the same pool of available teachers;
NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, the Board of Commissioners hereby urges the immediate repeal of school impact fees countywide; completion of a thorough independent, unbiased study of multi-track school options in the district; an independent review of school construction plans and associated costs compared to current national averages; and
NOW THEREFORE, BE IT FORMALLY RESOLVED, the Board of Commissioners hereby endorses the Pasco School District bond measure along with the aforementioned recommendations.
APPROVED this 23rd day of January, 2013
BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS FRANKLIN COUNTY, WASHINGTON
Rick Miller, Chair
Robert E. Koch, Chair Pro Tem
Brad Peck, Member
STATEMENT FROM PASCO SCHOOL DISTRICT BOARD PRESIDENT SHERRY LANCON
The District was disappointed by the Franklin County Resolution 2013 025 as it clearly reflects the Commission's lack of interest in gaining factual information prior to making decisions. The District has met every request for information made by the Commissioners and, in fact, information provided refutes many of the points in the resolution. Pasco School District has a demonstrated record of fiscal responsibility and has been recognized by the State Auditor for best practices. The District has done a thorough and exhaustive study to arrive at this bond election. Throughout the growth process Pasco School District has hired independent firms, brought in one of the nation's foremost experts on multi-track year round school, consulted with the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), conducted community surveys, offered information sessions, formed task forces, and invited the community, including our elected official, to become involved in the process and to be a part of the solution, at every turn. Calling growth projections into question (the students are here now) and suggesting the District freeze administrator pay (all District salaries have been frozen since 2009 and all District employees had two unpaid furlough days last year) clearly demonstrate how completely out of touch our Commissioners are with the reality of our schools. For the past two years the District has been waiting for the Commission to act on a request for impact fees and has yet to receive any formal response or public hearing on the issue. Vote it up or down, but bring it to the people to decide. This resolution draws assumptions that are biased, misleading and not based in fact and we are deeply disappointed.