PORT ANGELES — Port Angeles School District Superintendent Marty Brewer defended the district’s proposed capital levy during a recent tour of Stevens Middle School, rejecting suggestions that the district could save taxpayer money by building a modular school instead.
When Port Angeles Business Association members toured the facility Monday, levy opponents suggested that taxes are already too high and that a modular school would save taxpayer money. When pressed to name one school district that used the technology, Dan Shotthafer said modular schools are used “all over the country.”
“To be candid and honest, I think this community deserves better than a modular building,” Brewer said. “There will be some that will be ticked that I said that, but our community, staff and kids deserve buildings that could be standing here in the next 100 years.”
When Brewer was a principal in Grandview in the early 2000s, that district added an eight-classroom modular building while renovating the existing school.
“At that time, there was no comparison on the quality of construction and I lived through it,” Brewer said. “That modular building in Grandview, Wash., is not holding up like the stick-built. That’s my experience.”
Shotthafer said that buildings “don’t have life spans” if they are maintained on a continuing basis.
“As we walked through this facility today, being 60 years old, I see very few examples — if any — of lack of maintenance,” Brewer said. “I see a clean, well-cared-for facility with thousands of kids going through this.
“In my opinion, this team does a great job of keeping these buildings operational considering their age.”
Facilities and Maintenance Director Nolan Duce started the tour by passing around a corroded pipe that was removed from a locker room in 2010.
One person, after examining the gunk-filled pipe, asked what people are drinking when drinking water from those pipes.
“Whatever can go around that [corrosion],” Duce said. “We do have water bottle filling stations around the school for drinking water, but that is exactly what all the water is going through. If you have it at your house as well, that’s probably what your house’s pipes look like.”
During the tour visitors learned about the inefficient and inadequate heating systems, the lack of cooling systems, asbestos tiles and the sub-par special education room.
Heaters roared in each of the rooms as Duce and Nolan explained how loud and inefficient heating systems impact learning.
Half of the couple dozen people on the tour crammed into the cafeteria kitchen as Duce explained the limitations of a small kitchen.
Voters decide in February
Voters will decide in February whether to approve a five-year $52.6 million capital levy to renovate and expand Stevens Middle School.
The levy would cost property owners and additional $2.62 per $1,000 of assessed value, or $655 per year for a $250,000 home.
The capital levy would fund 37,000 square feet of new construction and an overhaul of the existing 72,000 square feet, which would be done in two phases.
The average cost for new construction last year was $419 per square foot while the average cost for remodels was $315 per square foot, Brewer said.
Brewer said the $52.6 million levy would be matched by $18.4 million in state assistance from the State Construction Assistance Program.
That state funding is based on square footage at Stevens and the former Monroe and Fairview Elementary Schools.
“The SCAP funding model is a broken model,” Brewer said. “I go to Olympia and fight it every year. They know it’s massively underfunded and they don’t address it.”
Shotthafer told Brewer taxpayers are concerned about their total tax bill. When the state implemented the so-called McCleary Fix, state taxes went up as local taxes went down, he said.
“As people who pay taxes, they are concerned about their total tax bill. That’s the bottom line,” Shotthafer said. “The rest is smoke and mirrors.”
One person asked about a sign she saw that says “stop 175% percent school tax increase.”
Brewer said the sign is accurate, but it doesn’t take into account recent history. Before the McCleary Fix, the district’s Maintenance and Operations Levy was $3.01 per $1,000 of assessed value. That rate was cut to $1.50 as a result of the McCleary Fix and the levy is now called the Educational Programs and Operations levy.
Brewer said this would be a 37 percent increase over that previous rate.
When the state Legislature decided last year that school districts could again increase their EP&O levies up to $2.50 without another vote of the people, the Port Angeles School District chose not to.
Balancing the operating budget on a $1.50 EP&O levy forced the school district to cut nearly 50 jobs.
“We know there’s a fine line on what our folks can afford,” Brewer said. “We gave up millions of local dollars and said we can balance our budget on $1.50 and we’re committed to doing that. This board should be commended for doing that.”
Jesse Major, a former reporter for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Angeles.