Federal Way Public Schools is asking voters to approve a $33 million levy in a special election in February 2018 that will support basic education services, such as classroom teacher staffing. FILE PHOTO

Federal Way Public Schools is asking voters to approve a $33 million levy in a special election in February 2018 that will support basic education services, such as classroom teacher staffing. FILE PHOTO

Growing pains have always been a challenge for Federal Way schools

1998 started with a late push to garner support for the FW school district’s EP&O levy.

In 1998, the city of Federal Way, while still relatively young, was facing a growing population.

How best to educate the younger population — and the buildings needed to accommodate them — dominated much of the discussion in the school district that year.

The year started, however, with school district supporters making a late push to garner support for the educational program and operations levy on the ballot.

Up until just recently, school districts in the state depended on residents to provide the bulk of their funding, and EP&O levies were the primary mode of doing so. Just as in years prior, as well as those following through today, obtaining the necessary voter support for the EP&O levy to pass has been a concern for school district administrations.

Without those dollars coming in by way of property taxes to impact the school district’s bottom line, any cuts in staffing and educational programs already being offered would affect the type of education students would receive.

The EP&O levy for which the school district was seeking voter approval in 1998 was not new. It was a continuation of a levy that had passed 18 years early. In fact, the EP&O levy put before voters in February 2018 is a continuation of that same levy that the school district was so concerned about in 1998.

Although supporters and district officials were feeling all but certain about its passage at the time, the EP&O levy successfully passed in spring of 1998. Attention then turned to district facilities, specifically the number of schools in the district, versus the number of students coming in.

Early in the year, then-Superintendent Tom Vander Ark warned the school board that the steady influx of students coming in through the years was outstripping the schools’ capacity to hold them.

Fast forward to 2017, and district administrators issued that same warning to the school board and, combined with the age and deterioration of existing school facilities, that argument drove the district to put a $450 million facilities bond on the Nov. 7 general election. The bond successfully passed.

In 1998, however, school district administrators, staff and parents could not agree what should be included in a bond package to put before voters. At the time, the district only had three traditional high schools, and many staff felt another one was needed.

School administrators were thinking of a scaled-back project. School district officials unveiled a $52 million bond issue that they hoped would be approved and then put on a ballot for a 1999 vote. At the center of the plan was a scaled down $11 million high school that would be built at the Truman High School site that would hold 1,100 students. The school would have offered high-tech courses, such as computer network engineering, website publishing and multimedia production.

The package also would have dedicated $15 million for a new middle school, which would have accommodated its plan to shift away from the junior high model in favor of a middle school model, where sixth grade would be taken out of elementary schools and moved to middle school, and high schools would begin in ninth grade. The year closed, however, without the school board adopting the plan because there was still disagreement as to whether the proposed bond issue would solve and best meet the district’s and students’ needs.

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