The Tahoma School District has 54 acres in Black Diamond, and the Enumclaw School District wants them.
The triangular piece of land is a part of the Lawson Hills master planned development (MPD) - one of two MPDs by YarrowBay that could potentially see more than 6,000 single family and multi-family units built in Black Diamond in the next two decades. The other MPD is known as The Villages.
The Enumclaw School Board in 2010 approved its part in a tri-party agreement with the city of Black Diamond and YarrowBay which secures seven school sites in the two planned communities over that time frame.
The two MPDs, if filled to capacity, could add more than 3,500 students to the district where currently, only one elementary school in the district is located in Black Diamond.
Supporters Argues Tax Benefits
The 54 acres in question - about 35 of which are developable spread over five parcels - are not actually adjacent to the rest of the Lawson Hills MPD; geographically they are located within the Tahoma School District.
While the land is currently undeveloped, YarrowBay aims to use it for commercial purposes, meaning no homes will be built there according to current plans.
According to figures provided by the King County Assessor, the five parcels were last assessed collectively at $2,324,000.
At a public hearing Tuesday hosted by the Enumclaw School District at Black Diamond Elementary School that drew about 40 citizens from both districts, Black Diamond City Councilman Craig Goodwin shared that the Tahoma School District currently receives about $20,000 in property taxes from that land in its current undeveloped state.
Though the property tax sum is nominal, the land does have an impact on the assessed value of the school district where students of the two MPDs will attend. It broadens the tax base for the Enumclaw School District and effectively lowers the tax rate for residents, said district Director of Business and Operations Tim Madden.
That will prove important when the district goes to voters to pass a bond or levy. Residents in property-rich districts are subjected to lower rates for a same bond compared with residents in a property-poor district, said Madden. Under the tri-party agreement, only the first elementary school site has been conveyed. Subsequent construction of the other school sites depends heavily on construction bond approvals.
Other than it makes practical sense for the MPDs to fall under one school district, "We will be supporting the kids who live in these developments," said Enumclaw Schools Superintendent Mike Nelson. "That money should go to Enumclaw."
So should sales tax dollars generated by potential businesses in this area, argued Black Diamond PTA President Jennifer Leatham. Many Black Diamond residents have shopped in Maple Valley over the years because of the lack of resources in town, she said, and the Tahoma School District benefits from it. "It is only logical and just that when there is a place for us to shop locally, that tax money be allocated to our schools," she said.
Resistance from Tahoma
Several citizens who attended the hearing disagreed and argued the land has always been Tahoma's and should stay put.
Parent Cynthia Wheeler, also among a group of local petitioners who filed an appeal against YarrowBay in 2010, accused Enumclaw leaders of creating their own problem when they entered into the tri-party agreement and did not pursue proper impact fees and mitigation from YarrowBay.
"There exist other, more honest remedies to this problem of your own making and I urge you to pursue them, rather than engage in such destructive, duplicitous and dishonorable behavior with your neighbors at the cost of their children's futures," she wrote in a prepared statement.
In a letter to the Enumclaw School Board asking it to reconsider, Tahoma Schools Superintendent Michael Maryanski argued that this particular land transfer proposal doesn't meet criteria as outlined by state law, largely because the property in question is commercial. It doesn't improve educational opportunities, student welfare or accessibility.
As the districts currently stand, Maryanski wrote, Enumclaw is already able to levy more maintenance and operations dollars per student at lower tax rates than Tahoma. The land transfer would exacerbate that disparity.
Susan Harvey, speaking for the Greater Maple Valley Area Council, also concurred. When you remove tax parcels, you're removing revenue, she said, and shared that at least two elementary schools in Tahoma - Lake Wilderness and Rock Creek - were already overcrowded. "We request that, should any boundary adjustment be agreed to by the two school districts, it include a trade or compensation that neither penalizes nor benefits one district over the other," she said.
Call for Common Sense
Four school districts currently serve various parts of Black Diamond: Enumclaw, Tahoma, Kent and Auburn. And while some have characterized Enumclaw's intent as one of 'robbing Peter to pay Paul,' Goodwin begged to differ.
Though he sits on the City Council, he spoke at Tuesday's hearing as a private citizen and shared that though he opposed the tri-party agreement "over concerns that mitigation was inadequate," he supported the land transfer because this is a separate issue that needs to address what is in the best interest of Black Diamond.
"Approval of the MPDs mean that our community will grow over the next 15 to 20 years from our current population of about 4,100 to over 20,000 with all of this population growth concentrated within ESD," he wrote in a prepared statement. "The entire development encompassing over 1,500 acres should therefore be part of ESD."
Since 2009 when the plans were first announced by YarrowBay and Black Diamond, the developer has been tied up with an assortment of appeals from concerned citizens. According to the Maple Valley Reporter, several decisions were issued in YarrowBay's favor in December though the Land Use Petition Act appeal by Toward Responsible Development was still before the Court of Appeals at that time.
The issue of land transfer between districts will likely be on the agenda as a resolution for discussion and consideration at the next regular meeting of the Enumclaw School Board on Tuesday, Jan. 22, said Board President Corey Cassell.
"If a resolution is approved, a petition will be submitted for consideration by the Puget Sound Educational Service District's Regional Committee," he said.
From the regional committee's level, there will be additional opportunities for public input, said PSESD spokesperson Peter Daniels. According to the operating procedures of the Puget Sound ESD Regional Committee: "All districts affected, committee members, and petitioners will be informed of the date and time of the hearing at least ten (10) days prior to the scheduled hearing."
To view who currently sits on the committee and for more information about procedures, click here.