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Bill seeks to let majority approve passage of school bond measures

The Legislative Building of the Washington State Capitol, Olympia.

February 17, 2015 - 1:00 pm

By John Stang

A needed boost to fix old schools? Or sore losers wanting to change the rules?

Those were some of the ways that speakers at a legislative hearing Monday described a bill by Rep. Mia Gregerson, D-SeaTac, and Rep. Dick Muri, R-Steilacoom, to ease the passage of school bond measures. Their bill calls for a November public ballot asking voters to amend the state constitution and change the current 60 percent majority requirement for passing a school construction bond to a simple majority.

Supporters cited Washington’s booming student populations, many outgrowing their schools. “We do need to properly house these students,” Muri said. Muri was the only Republican among the 45 co-signers on the bill.

Bill supporters also cited the time and effort going into each of the school construction bond packages, which frequently capture the majorities of the ballots but still fail – sometimes resulting in bond packages going to voters many times before passage.

Bernie Dorsey, president of south King County’s Highline School Board, noted that the district had a recent bond issue fail despite getting support from 59 percent of the voters. “We want to allow the majority of the voters to choose,” he said. Another superintendent noted his district had construction bond packages fail 14 straight times before getting one to pass last week.

Ryan Brault, president of the Pasco School Board, said that his district’s pupils doubled in 15 years to 17,000 students, resulting in nine new school buildings being constructed. “With the many challenges we have, securing a 60 percent majority shouldn’t be one of them,” Brault said.

Sixteen people signed up to testify in favor of the bill, although time permitted only eight to do so. Meanwhile, six people signed up to testify against the bill, with four getting time to do so.

“The (60 percent) majority threshold is to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority,” said Jerry Gibbs of Gig Harbor. Betsy Tainer of University Place added; “Voters are shooting down bonds and levies all over the state. … It’s because we realize the tax burdens are too great.”

Dan Shotthafer said: “Let’s not move the goal posts because you don’t like the way the game is currently played.

Distributed by Crosscut Public Media

Click here for more 2015 Olympia coverage.

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