Op-ed by Rep. Andrew Barkis | Don’t put land-use rules ahead of school kids

Special to The News Tribune (June 4, 2017)

For years, school districts, stakeholders, and lawmakers have been working diligently to reform the outdated Growth Management Act (GMA), and the restraints placed on where new schools are developed.

Lawmakers kept their promise and found a solution during the 2017 legislative session. We reached a bipartisan compromise for a more flexible, less costly school siting option – House Bill 1017. Our efforts paid off, and the bill passed the House 81-15, and Senate 37-11.

It seemed natural that Gov. Jay Inslee would follow in our footsteps and sign the fix into law. But to our astonishment, he vetoed most of the bill, to the detriment of school districts statewide that were anticipating much needed expansion relief.

I am thrilled the Bethel School District, which lies in the 2nd Legislative District that I represent, was not affected because Pierce County was excluded from the veto. Bethel owns 80 acres of land about a mile outside Pierce's urban growth boundary.

Because of GMA restraints, the school district hasn't been able to build a new high school on land it owns. It tried to find the space within the boundary, but there wasn't any available. All that's changed thanks to HB 1017.

Bethel Superintendent Tom Seigel calls is a '”huge step forward” that will enable the suburban district to accommodate an estimated 3,000 students over the next decade.

What is good enough for the Bethel school district should be good enough for all Washington school districts. The Washington State School Directors' Association estimates 28 of the 295 school districts face similar expansion barriers, and the number will only increase.

The state population is booming but school districts are coming up short on finding space suitable to build more schools. If schools could be developed within the urban growth boundaries, they would. But, in a lot of cases, they can't.

If the governor hadn't partially vetoed our bill, all school districts would've been granted the same flexibility afforded to Bethel and could plan for expansion.

It's no secret the Legislature's paramount duty is to fully fund basic education. Yet, Inslee senselessly vetoes a bipartisan bill that puts students first. This isn't the “One Washington” we hear him constantly talking about.

There were 38 counties looking at the governor to do the right thing. Instead, he put the outdated GMA in front of school districts and kids.

“The veto put the governor's stand of putting children first in danger,” said my colleague, and prime sponsor of the bill, Rep. Bob McCaslin. “Schools around the state won't be able to modernize and students will remain in portable units.”

Clearly, the governor needs to rethink his priorities.

He has offered justification to his veto. He wants to prevent rural growth by limiting the size, scale and reach of utilities brought out to new school sites.

Our efforts continue to reform the GMA. So, the question remains: What happens when the law does change and economic growth is eventually allowed in rural areas? If you limit utilities only to a school now, additional utility infrastructure will need to be placed later. This will come at a cost to the county, and the taxpayer.

This is a prime example of inefficiency in government.

Our bill passed both chambers with strong bipartisan support, which could be enough to establish an override to the governor's veto. Our priorities are clear, and I will lead the call to override this egregious decision.

Our students can't wait any longer. House Bill 1017 is the right solution.

State Representative Andrew Barkis, 2nd Legislative District
427A Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7824 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000