The strain at Pasco’s Maya Angelou Elementary School is not obvious.
Principal Diana Cissne is proud of the work her staff does to teach more than 900 students in a building designed for two-thirds that number.
“When you have a school with 915 kids, there is more than just the space that is impacted,” Cissne said. “It’s the number of kids coming down to the office to see the nurse or the number of kids needing to see a counselor, the discipline issues. All of that is increased.”
The Road 84 elementary will be one of the schools to benefit the most if voters pass a $99.5 million bond on Tuesday.
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But Maya Angelou isn’t alone in dealing with overcrowding — all but four of Pasco’s 15 elementary schools are overcrowded, according to a report from MGT Consulting.
The four that aren’t are Marie Curie STEM, Barbara McClintock STEM, Whittier and Longfellow.
Marcia Stillwell with Pasco Citizens for Better Schools said school overcrowding has become a serious concern and one that requires more building space.
“Portables are not a long-term solution, nor are they an ideal learning situation,” she said. “In the winter some of our students are wearing coats and gloves in the classroom because the indoor temperature has dropped below 60 degrees.”
Portables are not a long-term solution, nor are they an ideal learning situation. In the winter some of our students are wearing coats and gloves in the classroom because the indoor temperature has dropped below 60 degrees.
Marcia Stillwell, Pasco Citizens for Better Schools
If approved, most of the bond will pay to build two new elementary schools, a new middle school and rebuild Stevens Middle school.
It would cost property owners in the district 59 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. That means the owner of a $200,000 home would pay $118 a year.
The new elementary schools are planned for sites in west Pasco. Elementary 16 would be on district-owned property near Chiawana High School. The other elementary is expected to go between Road 90 and Broadmoor Boulevard.
The 72,000-square-foot buildings would hold about 800 students each and take pressure off other elementaries in the fastest growing part of the city.
Overcrowding has just become a constant consideration for the teachers and administrators.
Michelle Whitney, superintendent
Another part of the bond to rebuild a larger Stevens Middle School.
At 56 years, it’s the oldest middle school in the district. Stillwell said it has serious maintenance issues, including a leaking roof, inadequate electrical systems and poor air and water quality.
The proposed replacement, a 92,000-square-foot building, will have more space to hold about 200 more students.
The newest and most expensive portion of the bond is building a new middle school, which would be the district’s fourth.
That school will have a footprint of 115,000 square feet.
Building that school was a sticking point for many of the most vocal voters during the February election. After that bond failed, several parents said McLoughlin Middle School needed some relief.
McLoughlin holds almost 1,200 students and has more than 30 portable classrooms, according to the district.
$99.5 million Bond total (Does not include $5 million left from 2013 bond, impact fees.)
$38.6 million2 new elementary schools
$37.8 million 1 new middle school
$21.1 million rebuild Stevens Middle School
$3.7 million roof repairs, security improvements, future school land
$3 million transportation center, bays
$300,000 Bond costs, fees
Superintendent Michelle Whitney said community members were looking for the district to be more proactive in trying to address overcrowding issues and with constructing buildings.
The Community Builders group is part of that approach. It’s a focus group helping develop a long-term facilities plan for the district.
“The Community Builders hope is that we can get out in front of this overcrowding as much as possible,” she said. “Overcrowding has just become a constant consideration for the teachers and administrators.”
In addition to crowded schools and classrooms, district facilities have other issues that the bond would help.
One of the biggest is a $3 million expansion of the bus facility. The expansion adds two more mechanic bays and replaces transportation offices and driver areas with a single, insulated metal building.
District officials noted their current aging facility serves almost twice as many buses per mechanic bay than Kennewick or Richland schools.
Statistics show that kids who are involved in extracurricular (activities) will do better in school, but an overcrowded school makes that difficult. At all levels, students are being turned away because there aren't enough spots on teams or clubs.
Marcia Stillwell, Pasco Citizens for Better Schools
The measure has drawn some opposition from political activist Roger Lenk, who leads Pasco Citizens for Effective Schools. Initially he said the district should use an $82 million increase from the state for new buildings instead of the bond.
But that idea met criticism from people who pointed out that the state increase is directed at paying teacher salaries and can’t legally be used to pay for buildings.
Then, Lenk told the Herald, the district should eliminate its operations and maintenance levy in favor of a larger bond.
“Our position is that Pasco School District ... should permanently eliminate the current excess levy ... and pass a school bond at about $130 million,” he said.
But Howard Roberts, the district’s executive director of fiscal services, said there’s a problem with that. The state money doesn’t come all at once, but over four years. And all of the state’s estimates already factor in the district passing a levy of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value.
Lenk’s argument also is based on one other assumption — that the state Supreme Court will sign off on the Legislature’s McCleary solution.
Several school districts, along with teacher’s unions, claim the Legislature’s resolution doesn’t meet the court ruling’s requirements.
Ballots have been sent and must be returned by Tuesday.