Options to ease overcrowding in Bethel School District examined in case bond measure rejected

PUYALLUP, Wash. -- Parents, community members and Bethel School District officials came together Tuesday night to address overcrowding in the district.

The Bethel School District is hoping a $443 million bond passes in November to build new schools, repair existing ones and ease overcrowded classrooms, but the school district has a long history of failed bond measures, so a task force came together to look at drastic options in case this bond fails, too.

“It’s gotten worse,” said Kim Price, a parent of current students at Bethel schools and a long history of her own in the district.

“I graduated in the Bethel School District, all my kids have gone through the Bethel School District."

As a mother of six, she knows the effects of crowded classrooms.

“I have two in the district right now and I’ve graduated four already. Oh Lord, my son goes to Graham-Kapowsin and there are nearly 2,000 kids in that school. I know my son can’t get to his locker, so he carries his stuff with him all day."

So she’s here, at a task force meeting looking at ways to ease overcrowding.

“We’ve grown 4,500 kids since I’ve gotten here in 2001,” said Superintendent Tom Seigle.

“Middle schools are toasty, too, but they have little bit of room,” said Seigle, adding that elementary and high schools are experiencing the most overcrowding.

The district has 201 portable classrooms at schools now. Each cost about $300,000. Seigle says they are running out of room for portables, too, and are pushing for the bond to pass.

“It would build two new elementary schools, a brand new high school, renovate and expand four other schools and renovate Bethel High School,” said Doug Boyles with the Bethel School District.

The district doesn’t have a successful history passing bonds. Since 1980, 20 bond measures have been proposed, and only four have passed.

Boyles says if the bond passes, it would not solve the problem, but it would make it more manageable.

Boyles says that’s why the task force is here, weighing what he calls drastic measures in case this bond also fails.

Double shifting students is an option.

“Where you have kids go to school from six to noon and another group of kids go from noon to six in the same school. They’re going to look at leasing retail space in nearby paces. There’s a Kmart that’s shut down, they’ll look at what if we could hold classes there,” said Boyles.

He says they’re also looking at leasing space from other districts and creating year-round school on a track system where three-quarters of the student population would be in school and one-quarter would be off. Students would attend school for 45 days, then have 15 days off.

Bethel school implemented the year-round school in the late '70s. Price was a student then.

“It’s definitely different because having gone through it and if it comes back I don’t know how I would feel, I don’t know if I’m necessarily for it but I can see why they would do it,” said Price.

Price says she’s not thrilled about repeating history, but if the past has lessons to be learned, she’s not relying on the bond passing either to fund a better future.

“Smaller class sizes, getting fair education for the kids.”

The same bond measure was proposed two years ago and failed to pass. The district says if it does not pass again in November, they would be looking at the year-round school option to possibly start in the 2021-2022 school year.