State of the schools: Growth is in the air

Local superintendents share reflections at Chamber luncheon

Michael Stromme

Mike Nerland

Local school districts are growing, and it has created a need for more space to house additional students.

That was the message delivered by Washougal Superintendent Mike Stromme and Camas Superintendent Mike Nerland.

The two spoke about the “State of the Schools,” at the Camas-Washougal Chamber of Commerce’s Thursday luncheon at Camas Meadows Golf Club.

Washougal passed a $57 million bond last February, and Camas voters will decide whether to pass a $120 million bond at the upcoming Feb. 9 election.

School bonds require a super majority in Washington state. This means they must be approved by at least 60 percent.

“It takes a great number of people and a lot of work to pass a bond,” Stromme said.

He began serving as superintendent in July, and was previously the Vancouver Public Schools associate superintendent of teaching and learning.

“It’s about creating the conditions that provide safe and healthy schools,” Stromme said. “We want to give students a feeling of success and a chance to achieve their dreams after they walk out of our doors. Education doesn’t happen in a vacuum.”

Stromme discussed several of the upcoming bond projects.

“These things don’t get designed overnight, but we are definitely in the process,” he said. “We also have a citizens oversight committee that we report to regularly.”

Bond projects include a new, 400 student elementary school on the Jemtegaard Middle School site, a replacement middle school and a new Excelsior High School. Ground breaking for the district’s new schools is expected in the summer.

The bond also includes security enhancements at all district schools and construction of a new transportation facility.

“I am very excited about the new transportation facility being located at the new site (behind the district administration building),” Stromme said. “This will give us room to grow.”

Stromme touched on the challenges posed by the construction at the Jemtegaard site, which is located in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, and therefore subject to both county regulations and those of the Gorge commission.

“This is not an easy process, but we are extremely excited,” Stromme said.

Nerland noted that as superintendents, part of the mission is to build a learning community.

“This is what makes East County the best part of the county to be in,” he said. “You can see and feel the difference here. I would say the state of Camas schools is very strong.”

He noted that before the bond was placed on the Feb. 9 ballot, part of the planning stages included a community survey by CFM Research.

“During the survey, 84 percent of respondents gave the school district an “A” or a “B” for performance,” Nerland said. “That is the highest number they have ever had for a school district in their history, and they’ve been around a long time.”

He noted that like Washougal, Camas schools continue to grow.

“When CHS opened in 2003, there were 1,200 students,” Nerland said. “Now, we are up to 1,600. We need more space at the high school.”

Proposed bond projects include:

  • A 600-student magnet high school on the Camas High School campus.
  • A new Lacamas Heights Elementary School, north of Lacamas Lake, to accommodate 600 students.
  • Implementation of long-term parking solutions for CHS.
  • Acquisition of property for future school sites.
  • Improvements to building safety at all schools with controlled entry/access points, fob controls, video surveillance and upgraded exterior lighting and fencing.
  • Facility improvements such as ADA and mechanical system upgrades, roof improvements, technology infrastructure upgrades and carpet replacement.
  • Modernization of the Joyce Garver Theater/Garfield building, additions of concessions and bathrooms to the Doc Harris Stadium visitor side, and turf and light improvements at CHS fields.
  • If approved, starting in 2017, the bond measure would cost a taxpayer with a property valued at $300,000 approximately $15 more per month. The owner of a property worth $500,000 would pay an additional $25 per month.

    The current bond tax rate is $2.95 per $1,000. This is approximately $73.75 per month for the owner of a $300,000 home, and $123 per month for the owner of a $500,000 home.

    “We are going to accommodate growth at the high school, improve students safety, take care of our existing facilities and continue our great maintenance and upgrades,” Nerland said. “For our students who graduate from Camas or Washougal, there are no limits to what we think they can do.”