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Local teachers, students watch schools fall into disrepair as key vote fails

Graham-Kapowsin High School in Bethel is one of many schools in the state in desperate need of repairs and renovations. (Graham-Kapowsin High School Photo)

A measure that would have simplified the process for allocating money to local districts died in the Washington state Senate on Wednesday, a move that could have some significant consequences for schools in need.

RELATED: Washington schools still falling apart

Currently, the process to allocate school bonds in the state Legislature requires a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate. A proposed measure would have scaled back that requirement to a simple majority vote, and was supported by large and small school districts alike.

These bonds are often put toward everything from shoring up leaky roofs in schools, to major renovations.

“We’ve heard stories of black mold, of roofs caving in, and still a minority of this body is keeping us from making this meaningful change,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Lisa Wellman in a recent news release.

Wednesday’s vote was split directly down party lines — all 28 of the “yes” votes were Democrats, falling just short of the 33 votes needed for a super-majority.

Washington is also in the minority in terms of states that require a two-thirds vote for school bonds, something that one educator sees as a massive detriment for students.

“Only six states in the United States require a super-majority, and none of them are in the top 20 in terms of academic performance,” Bethel School District Superintendent Tom Siegel told KIRO Radio.

“This is just a basic part of education that needs to be taken care of, and it just needs to be fixed,” he added.

In Bethel, Siegel noted that some schools in the district need new roofs and updates to decades-old buildings.

Those issues aren’t unique to Siegel’s district either.

RELATED: Figuring out what’s behind Seattle’s school bond vote

“Our newest buildings are over 30 year olds. Most of our buildings are between 50 and 75 years old,” South Kitsap Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Farmer said in recent testimony before the Legislature. “Upgrades to our buildings in seismic, ventilation, lighting, heating, fire, and safety have reached the tipping point.”

One Port Angeles student even described an incident where the roof in a classroom completely caved in, on a campus where “the buildings are not 21st century buildings.”

Another student at that same school described how the heating doesn’t work, the water runs orange, and trash cans are placed under leaky roofs to catch water (two of which collapsed; one at the high school, and one at the nearby middle school).

Similar stories were heard in testimony from a handful school district representatives in front of the Legislature before the bill was voted on. Now that it’s essentially dead, there’s concern that many schools will continue falling into disrepair.

“Student health and safety is being put at risk as school districts are unable to raise the funds for necessary school improvements,” said Sen. Wellman.

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