5 districts in Washington state sue county over restrictions on school construction

5 districts in Washington state sue county over restrictions on school construction

PIerce County ordinance restricts where districts can build in areas considered to be rural.

Five school districts in Washington state have sued Pierce County over land-use policies that the districts contend are hampering their ability to serve students in parts of the county.

The Tacoma News-Tribune reports that the suit also contends that county rules are restricting districts from offering certain special programs in rural areas .

The Bethel, Eatonville, Franklin Pierce, Sumner and Tacoma school districts are plaintiffs in the litigation.

They argue that a recent county ordinance would prohibit building new schools and forbid expansion of existing school facilities in certain rural areas if those facilities also house students from urban areas. The districts assert that the ordinance interferes with their legal responsibilities to build schools and determine instructional programs.

The ordinance in question was enacted in June by the Pierce County Council and governs where schools can be built. It was an attempt to bring Pierce County into compliance with the 1990 Growth Management Act, which is designed to contain new development inside an urban growth boundary and preserve rural land.

The issue has arisen because the Bethel District has acquired 80 acres of land to build a high school at some future date. The tract is about a mile south of the urban growth boundary line. The district argues that there was no available site inside the urban line suitable for a high school.

Bethel officials maintain that Bethel is no longer rural, but primarily suburban. But under county rules, more than 80 percent of the district remains designated as rural, the lawsuit says.

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