Pasco School District to put $59M bond before voters April 26

Continued school overcrowding and a chance at securing $50 million in state matching money are prompting the Pasco School District to ask voters to approve a $59 million bond for two new schools and an early learning center.

Superintendent Saundra Hill said the April bond is necessary "to get the (state) money prior to cutbacks on matching funds from the state. We needed these schools yesterday."

The $59 million bond and state matching dollars would pay for a new elementary school and middle school to be built on land already owned by the school district.

It also would pay for a west side early learning center for kindergarten and special education classes as well as various capital projects, including improvements to buildings and the purchase of portable classrooms.

The Pasco School Board unanimously voted Tuesday to put the bond before voters on April 26.

The proposed bond would cost homeowners 95 cents per $1,000 assessed value, or $95 a year on a $100,000 home.

Noting how overcrowded the schools are, school board member John Hergert said, "This is right for the kids."

The district's student population has grown from 8,800 a decade ago to more than 15,000 today. And it keeps growing. Its schools are projected to hold more than 20,000 students by 2016.

McLoughlin Middle School will be growing from 1,500 to 1,600 students next year, said John Morgan, executive director of operations for the Pasco School District. "It's the largest middle school in the state, larger than many high schools."

"Every single school is over-enrolled," Hill said. "We have three elementary schools with over 800, pushing 900, that were built for 500 students."

If the bond passes, it would allow construction of a new elementary school to begin in June and be completed by July 2012.

Construction on a new middle school would begin in September 2012 with completion in July 2014 and the early learning center could be built between June 2013 and July 2014.

Hill told the Herald last month that no bond election was scheduled in the near future. But that was because no decision -- for or against a bond election -- had been made, she said.

"But with input from the community and given the state economic situation, $50 million in matching funds was not something we were willing to take a chance on losing," she said. She explained that the state dollars are available now, but that could easily change.

State legislators are struggling to plug an almost $5 billion hole in the next two-year budget.

The board considered two other bond options, including a $73 million bond, which would have included the two new schools, the early learning center and capital projects, but it would have delayed construction of the elementary school by a year and the other two by many months. There also would be no matching funds for the capital projects.

The other option considered and then discarded was a bare bones proposal of $43 million, which would build the schools with help from state matching dollars, but not pay for the early learning center or any capital projects.

Pasco voters last approved a bond five years ago. Voters passed a $83.4 million bond in 2006 to pay for building Chiawana High School and renovating Pasco High and Edgar Brown Stadium.

Also Tuesday the board:

-- Accepted the resignation of board member H.W. "Pete" Felsted. In a letter to the board Felsted said he would be out of town for six weeks and felt it was impractical to continue serving. His last board meeting will be Jan. 25. He has served since 2003.

-- Heard a report on proposed staggered start and dismissal times at all the schools. The advantage, said Morgan, would be a savings of $100,000 for the district and a more efficient use of the buses.

"It would give us more flexibility to deal with increased student enrollment," he said.

The board will receive a bus schedule at the Jan. 25 meeting. If approved, the new schedule would be used for the 2011-12 school year.