Bethel School District asking voters to help pay for growth

PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. -- Every day is a challenge for students in the Bethel School District in Pierce County.

Over the last few years the school district has seen a growth in student population. Just in the last year the district saw an increase of 450 new students.

“It’s like filling up one elementary school per year and we haven’t built any new schools since 2009,” said Tom Seigel, the Superintendent of the Bethel School District.

All that growth has impacted a district that is already dealing with rundown buildings and portable classrooms packed with students.

“We have 195 portable classrooms throughout the district and at our current rate of growth, we’ll run out of places to put portable classrooms in about 3 years’ time,” said Seigel.

At Bethel High School, the weight room is dealing with cracked ceilings and floors that are in danger of collapsing.

Superintendent Seigel said things will only get worse if something isn’t done soon.

Last week the Bethel School Board authorized a $443 million bond to go before voters on February 13, 2018.

“Our major concern is the growth,” said Seigel, “We have over 20,000 students and we’re running out of space.”

The bond would build three brand new schools, rebuild Challenger High School, modernize Bethel High School, and modernize and expand four of its other schools.

This will be the second time in recent years that the district will ask voters to help them out.

In 2016, voters rejected a $237 million bond that would have helped fix the district’s problems.

“There are bad things that will happen if this bond doesn’t pass. We’ll run out of space soon, so we’ll have to add more kids per classroom or have to become a year-round school,” added Seigel.

The district is also asking voters to pay for two expiring levies that are up for renewal next year. Both the Technology Levy and the Educational Programs and Operations Levy will also be on the ballot in February.

Seigel says because the state has changed the way it’s funding education, the property tax to pay for the bond and levies would go down in 2019. The levy would cost homeowners about $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property.

“It’s kind of a strange situation where you can have a renewal of two levies and a new bond and the taxes are actually going to go down for our local voters for all the school related taxes that we have on the ballot,” added Seigel.

Voters in Pierce County will decide on the school levy on February 13, 2018.