PASCO -- Months of campaigning for new schools for Pasco soon will come to an end.
Ballots for the Pasco school bond election will be mailed out Tuesday.
They need to be returned no later than April 26.
Pasco School District is putting the $59 million bond issue before voters, who must give it at least 60 percent approval.
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If approved, the district expects to get another $50 million in state matching money. The money would be used to build a new elementary school, a new middle school and a new early learning center.
All three schools would be in west Pasco. The bond would cost homeowners 95 cents per $1,000 in assessed value, or $95 for a $100,000 home.
The district needs the additional schools for students who are already in Pasco, Superintendent Saundra Hill told the Herald editorial board on Thursday.
The district's student population grew by 6,200 between 2000 and 2010 -- enough to open a new average-sized elementary school each year of the decade.
Pasco was the fastest-growing city in the state for most of that time, according to the state's Office of Financial Management.
There now are 18 schools in the district. Twelve of them are overcrowded, some significantly so, district records show.
The schools are so crowded that additional measures might be needed even if the bond passes. Changing the yearly school calendar or setting a new daily schedule so that not every student is in school at the same time are two of the plans discussed by a citizen task force, said John Morgan, executive director of operations.
But being that crowded also put the district near the top of the state's priority list when it comes to awarding matching money.
The state capital budget still is being discussed by legislators in Olympia and some districts fear they would not get the money promised to them for their building projects.
But just last week legislators told Pasco officials that even if less capital money were available, Pasco would get its cut because so many of its students are "unhoused," which means they are in portable classrooms, Morgan said.
The district has taken several steps to make the most of taxpayers' money, Hill said. It has a patented design that it reuses each time a school is built, reducing planning costs.
Pasco also builds larger schools than most districts around the state to save on construction and operation costs, she said.
And it builds schools to last 50 years rather than the customary 30, Morgan said.
Some of the money in this bond issue would keep existing buildings in good shape.
The resolution says those projects include but are not limited to upgrading heating, air conditioning, mechanical and electrical systems and parking lots at Pasco High School, McLoughlin Middle School, McGee, Twain and Markham elementary schools and the Support Services Facility, as well as other related health, safety and infrastructure improvements as needed.
If the bond passes, construction of the new elementary school would begin in June and would be done in summer 2012. The middle school and early learning center would be finished by summer 2014.
But it has been more of an uphill battle to convince voters this time around, said Michael Miller, co-chairman of the group Pasco Citizens for Better Schools.
The tough economy and a general anti-tax mood have made this bond election more contested that previous proposals, he said.
The group has spent about $25,000 on radio ads and printed campaign materials -- more than for past bond elections, Miller said. The campaigns are being paid for entirely by donations, not district money.
Ballots can be mailed or dropped in boxes set up at several locations around Pasco, including the courthouse, TRAC and the election center at 116 N. 3rd Ave.
* Jacques Von Lunen: 509-582-1402; firstname.lastname@example.org