WE CAN’T AFFORD to let our schools fall apart.
Opponents of the Port Angeles School District’s five-year $52.6 million capital levy on the Feb. 11 ballot say it costs property owners too much.
But consider the cost if this measure fails:
1. We jeopardize our children’s safety.
This is not a matter of new paint or carpeting. The needs are not cosmetic. They are structural. The school is worn out and unsafe.
It likely would not hold up in a big earthquake, which experts say is going to happen here sooner or later.
It contains asbestos, a popular insulating and building material when the 60-year-old Stevens Middle School was built. Asbestos is in the roof. The old boiler pipes are wrapped in it. If a pipe bursts, it is necessary to bring in experts who can disturb the cancer-causing material without risk rather than rely on district maintenance crews, an expensive necessity.
There are no fire sprinklers. Fire alarms are in place, but no sprinklers exist to slow the spread of a blaze.
Roofing, plumbing, electrical systems — life safety systems — have been repaired as far as they can be. The maintenance work has been done. The school is simply worn out.
In addition to middle school renovations, this levy would fund safety vestibules to control access to all elementary schools.
The schools now have several points of entry, making them vulnerable to those who — always unexpectedly — would come on campus to do violence.
What if the unthinkable happens? What if a disaster strikes that could have been minimized or even averted by a functioning building?
How will we live with ourselves if we didn’t do our best to make our schools safe for our children?
2. We decline to invest in our community.
Prospective employers are always interested in the quality of local schools. That includes their physical condition.
Stevens Middle School has been ranked by state-approved architects at 31 on a scale of 1 to 100 for systems such as safety, building envelope and HVAC.
That ranking could discourage professionals, such as physicians, from coming to Port Angeles to work or convince those who are weighing the benefits of bringing businesses, jobs and development to Port Angeles to look elsewhere.
Growth translates into lower taxes, since development draws more people to share the load.
Growth helps keep our children here, because they have more opportunities at home.
Quality schools also are instrumental in maintaining property values since they make neighborhoods more attractive.
Investing in public schools is among the highest type of community service a person can do.
3. We give up on our future.
Nothing can guarantee that every child will learn. But we can do our best to make the environment conducive to learning.
When 40-year-old heaters are so loud that some children can’t hear their teachers, it is a strain on learning.
When the electrical system is maxed out and cannot support technological expansion, as is the case at Stevens, then our children don’t have the opportunity to learn cutting-edge skills that will give them the best possible start in their working lives.
Our children are the people who will create our future.
We owe it to them to reduce the distractions that interfere with their learning.
Opponents to this measure argue that a person owning a 60-year-old house would not tear it down and start over, but would instead fix elements as wear-and-tear made necessary.
They say maintenance at Stevens must have been poor since the school is in need of so much repair.
But what private residence has had to withstand the unintentional corrosion of at least 500 youngsters traipsing through it for several hours per weekday for 60 years?
Stevens has been maintained. None of the roofs leak. All classrooms are heated. The needs are structural, more than can be done by simple maintenance.
Opponents have suggested that the district purchase modular units for our children instead of spending the money on a brick-and-mortar structure.
Those who have had experience with modular units say they tend to wear out sooner than stick-built buildings, bringing up the question of how actually thrifty such a move would be.
Some opponents have said that even if the capital investment is needed, they simply don’t have the money.
It’s true it will cost us. But comparatively, it is something of a bargain.
The present levy rate — which residents enjoyed in 2019 — is at an historic low. The district’s Educational Program & Operations (EP&O) levy, which is for operations, is now at $1.50 per $1,000 assessed valuation. In 2018, it was $3.01 per $1,000 and four years earlier it was $3.20 per $1,000.
Opponents say that the tax would represent a 175 percent increase. That is correct. But incomplete. The levy now is deliberately low.
The state last year allowed districts like Port Angeles to increase the EP&O levy to $2.50 per $1,000, but the decision was made to refrain so as to keep the tax burden low and instead invest in capital projects.
The district cut $2.6 million out of its operating budget in the hopes of moving forward on construction while keeping the tax burden relatively low.
And if voters approve this levy, the district will be eligible for $18.4 million in state grants.
The plan for Stevens Middle School is the beginning of a 30-year plan to bring our schools up to par — but slowly, so as to minimize taxpayer burden.
In the architectural rating system that ranked Stevens at 31, Franklin Elementary is at 25, Hamilton at 33, Port Angeles High School at 39, and Roosevelt Elementary — the youngest at 42 years — at 57. Future measures would allow renovation and upgrading of these schools as well.
Investment in our schools is investment in ourselves.
Vote Yes on the PASD capital levy.
Presented by the Peninsula Daily News editorial board.