Recent surveys have uncovered that overcrowded schools, safety and aging facilities are top of mind problems for our students and staff. Later this school year, we will be revisiting our Long Range Facilities Plan to help us determine the best course of action. The following is an excerpt from an upcoming issue of the Bethel Pride. We hope that it gives you a clear picture of the current state of our district in terms of enrollment and facility needs.
You don't have to look far to see the signs of growth throughout our community. There's the enhancements made to 176th Street, the expansion of Canyon Crossings and dozens of homes sprouting up in places where farms used to be.
Throughout the district, there are also signs of change. More students are enrolling, graduation rates are rising, and there are new learning opportunities for kids as well as sustained progress towards reaching the reading, writing, math and science standards.
To ensure that Bethel continues successfully along its path of improvement requires strategic planning and preparation for the future, including its likely challenges.
More students coming
For the past several years, Bethel has been on a trajectory of growth. A study commissioned by the Associated Press in 2014 found that Bethel was the 12th fastest growing school district in Washington.
Last year, the school board received a presentation from one of the state's leading demographers. Les Kendrick of Northwest Educational Data Solutions informed the board that as many as 6,000 new homes were in the pipeline for Bethel. He anticipated that enrollment growth would continue in the area, long term. His models forecasted up to 3,000 more students would be added to the rolls over the next decade. Based on those estimates, Kendrick suggested that growth here would be substantially higher, compared to other districts, and be second only to Sumner in Pierce County.
Planning for growth
But along with growth comes new challenges. In just the past two years, nearly 1,000 new students have entered Bethel schools.
The board's commitment to free all day kindergarten and state mandates for lower elementary class sizes are good for students, but they require more space at a time when the district is challenged to alleviate crowded conditions and accommodate new enrollments.
With no slowdown in sight, the district is now looking for creative solutions to expand classroom space and keep class sizes small enough so children receive the best opportunities to learn.
For years, the district has supported growing schools by installing portables. As administrators prepare for next year, there are growing concerns. Over the summer, Bethel and four other school districts sued Pierce County because of changes to zoning requirements under the Growth Management Act. Under the County's new provision, districts will not be able to expand in rural areas to serve urban student populations. This means that about half of the district's schools- schools that are in the southern part of the district - will be off limits for portable and site expansions. Since only sites in the north half of the district may be considered, the district will be limited as to what it can do and may need to consider reboundary as an option.
Keeping facilities safe
Following the recent failure of two school bond measures, the priority is to make sure staff and students are safe so they can focus on teaching and learning. District administration has spent considerable time, assessing the condition of each portable and the maintenance needs of every school, such as roofs, painting and other repairs. Critical projects are being addressed as funding becomes available.
How you can help...
The community last reviewed the district's long-term facility plan in 2014. As we look to the future, we are seeking community members who want to help us develop a smart, efficient, long-term approach to managing our facility needs. This group will study the age and condition of our buildings, help us prioritize our schools' most urgent needs, and develop a plan that keeps costs low for taxpayers. If you are interested, applications for the Long Range Facilities Task Force will be available soon on our website, www.bethelsd.org.