Pasco voters are getting a $99.5 million choice in November’s election.
After about two hours of discussion on Tuesday, the school board, in a 4-1 vote, approved putting a bond measure on the ballot.
The proposal includes building two new elementary schools, a new middle school and rebuilding Stevens Middle School, along with $7 million of other improvements.
Officials are looking for more space to house the district’s student population, which grew from 12,306 in 2007 to 17,362 in 2016, MGT Consulting Group said.
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The consultants are predicting the explosive growth of the past 10 years will become steady growth during the next decade, with the district adding about 3,500 more pupils by 2027. That is about equal to the population of a new elementary school every two years.
The school board began wrestling with the projects to include on a new bond after a $69.5 million proposal failed to garner enough votes to pass in February. That proposal included two new elementary schools, rebuilding Stevens Middle School and several other improvements around the district.
After the measure failed, the officials enlisted MGT Consulting Group to help plan for the next bond. The consultants are working on a long-range facility plan, which includes plans for future bonds based on growth projections.
The consultants enlisted about 30 district residents called the Community Builders group, to help with both the long-range and short-term plans.
The group recommended a $104 million bond that included the two elementary schools, a fourth middle school and rebuilding Stevens Middle School.
As part of the plan, the district would shift sixth grade out of the elementary schools and into the middle school.
However, the school board set a $100 million limit to the bond measure. District officials were able to find places to cut, so the district didn’t need to ask for as much money.
The two new elementary schools — one slated for district-owned property on Road 84, the other on a site to be determined — account for about $41 million of the bond.
Rebuilding Stevens Middle School adds $22 million. The largest single project, at $39 million, is building a new middle school.
After the failure of February’s proposal, several McLoughlin Middle School parents said they voted against the measure because it didn’t have a fourth middle school.
The Legislature’s recent passage of a state budget that provides more money to schools threw a wrench into Tuesday’s discussion.
Board member Steve Christensen was the single opposing vote on the measure. Initially a supporter of a smaller bond, he changed his view. He said the state’s education solution was going to provide some tax relief for Pasco residents, and the district should capitalize on it by adding more projects to the bond.
“The Legislature has really done Pasco a favor in the way that they’re funding schools,” he said.
The favor involves a change in property taxes. In a move to spread the cost of education across the state, the statewide school property tax will rise by 81 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, and local levies will be capped at $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value.
While Pasco property owners will see a rise in property taxes next year as the change is partially put into place, overall property taxes are expected to decline by $2.01 per $1,000 by 2020, according to state figures.
Other board members noted a couple of problems with changing the plan, including an impending Aug. 1 deadline. Any bond measure needs to be filed with the Franklin County Auditor’s Office before then.
While others agreed the district may need more buildings for its students, they want to put the measure on the ballot in November.
Board member Aaron Richardson said the district does need a fifth middle school, but he doesn’t think the recommendation for this bond would change no matter how long they take to consider it.
“These are projects that we desperately need,” Richardson said. “I just don’t see a downside to running a bond now. ... I just don’t see the benefit of waiting until February without attempting to pass a resolution in November.”
Board member Sherry Lancon said the district is in desperate need now and can’t afford to wait another few months. She proposed putting a bond forward now and then another one in two years.