No excuses, Pierce County voters. Feb. 11 school measures cry out for attention

Kitchen table democracy has become a year-round fixture of life in Washington, a civic duty for which there’s no little or no offseason, especially in 2020. Under our vote-by-mail system, citizens can now expect to hunker down with their ballot, voters pamphlet, ink pen and a mug of hot coffee (optional but highly recommended) every three or four months, it seems.

The frequency is even greater this winter, as a Feb. 11 special election segues quickly into the March 10 presidential primary. State lawmakers’ decision to move up the primary date several weeks from late May, slating it one week after Super Tuesday, will give Washington issues more national attention, thank you very much. The tradeoff may be a mild case of voter fatigue.

Don’t let that distract you from the job at hand.

Ballots are due next Tuesday for school district money measures that will affect the quality of education all across Pierce County — from the urban centers of Tacoma and Lakewood, to the growing suburbs of Sumner-Bonney Lake, Orting, Auburn and the Gig Harbor Peninsula, all the way out to the smaller outposts of Eatonville, White River, Dieringer, Carbonado and Yelm.

The Pierce County auditor projects voter turnout of 35 to 38 percent. As of Wednesday, ballots received stood at 17.5 percent.

Memo to voters: We can do better. There’s no excuse for apathy; heck, we don’t even have to put a stamp on the envelope anymore.

Article IX of the Washington Constitution says that educating all children, regardless of “race, color, caste or sex,” is the state’s “paramount duty.” The Legislature, over time, has tried to define what a basic state-funded education should entail; in 2017 and 2018 legislators, on order of the state Supreme Court, allocated several billion more dollars and updated formulas for what Washington taxpayers would pay for.

Think of it as a floor, not a ceiling. Going above and beyond a basic education, and providing clean, safe buildings and intellectually stimulating learning environments, continues to be left to the discretion of local voters through bond and levy requests.

And that’s where we sit today, after ballots went out to the mailboxes of more than 293,000 registered Pierce County voters.

Because the bulk of those voters are in the Tacoma School District, this Editorial Board focused on Proposition 1, a construction bond that will replace or complete major renovations at eight Tacoma schools, among other projects. In our endorsement published Jan. 24, we summed up:

“Reasons other than growth are needed to persuade Tacoma voters to approve a $535 million capital bond measure in the February special election. TPS bond leaders have clearly spelled out those reasons — deteriorating buildings, deficient security and inequities between neighborhood schools — while crafting a focused package of improvements.

“We believe voters should say “yes” to Proposition 1 and continue their generous support of the urban school district.”

Unfortunately, we didn’t have a chance to delve into details of the measures in the other 10 local school districts. Most are renewals of expiring operational levies — generally a safe bet — while Sumner-Bonney Lake, Auburn and Eatonville are also trying to win approval for capital projects.

Voters clearly have a lot to digest this year. It starts between now and Feb. 11 as they weigh their fundamental responsibility to educate K-12 children and develop the next generation of Washington citizens.

You’d better get comfy at the kitchen table and brew a lot of coffee for that mug.