January 28, 2002
Practice of prudence is important
Our district has been fortunate to be provided with over half a billion dollars in levy funds for different programs over the last decade. But sooner or later we must ask the question, "Will there ever be a time when a particular school levy will not be needed?"
The original intent of the school levy was to provide for materials and programs over and above the state mandated minimums. Our district has done that and more. The goal was to improve the quality of education for our children. I believe that has been achieved. But the scope of our district's mission has changed over time. Where it used to be K-12, it now is preschool, K-12 and adult continuing education. These additional programs are not entirely self funded. Indeed, levy dollars are partially supporting them as well.
Washington state itself will only fund basic K-12 and that is an anorexic K-12 program at that. I can see the need for a Maintenance and Operations (M&O) levy, but a limited one. When looking for understanding and balance with regards to comparing the needs of the school district and the limitations of property taxation, the district is fairly vague when presenting the levy packages. A summary of the levy is provided, but the details are just not there.
The community in several ways often misunderstands school levies. Simply, a levy is a proposition, by the school district, to the voters, for funds to be directed for a specific use area. In our school district, they are to be categorized as three different types: an M&O levy (to provide additional staff), a Technology levy (which is targeted for technology projects, software and hardware) and the Capital Improvement levy (which augments construction money for school improvements over and above what the state will pay for).
Over the course of the last few years all of these levy packages have been placed before district staff and a polled select few to determine their "mandatory needs," "improvements and upgrades" and "wish lists.' There is a lot of horse-trading that goes on behind the scenes to come up with a proposal to put before the voters.
As a voter I would hope to shed some light on some of the ways that the district can save money and be more efficient in its operation. Subsequently, this will lead to a better education for all our children who attend school in this district. I have been torn on which way to vote on some levy proposals, but I would submit the following recommendations:
Vote yes on the M&O levy. It continues to fund the support staff who aid teachers for the most part. The teachers and staff whom I have been in contact with are committed to providing a quality education.
Vote no on the Technology levy. This levy is repeating some of the items the last Technology levy claimed to pay for (specifically, training and connectivity between schools). Additionally, with respect to hardware and software, this district still has not determined which operating platform it will support 100 percent. Multiple operating platforms are a waste of dollars. It would be far cheaper to give laptops to each student as they enter junior high school. $14,000,000 (yes that is million) in four years, incredible. Divide that into our student base of nearly 20,000 and come up with an interesting number.
Vote no on the Capital Improvement Bond levy. We are a district flush with properties yet we are not building anything signficant enough to require a bond levy. All totaled, the 20 percent additional cost for bonding is not needed. Property taxes are paid up front. Proper accounting can finance projects as they happen and the district could realize any interest on savings and apply those moneys to other improvements. An example of a questionable use of bond levy money would be the cost of more than $2,800,000 for an astro-turf field at our local high school. The maximum life expectancy for the field is 12 years. Is it worth that expense, especially when that field is sparsely used? I would recommend for future consideration a cost-benefit analysis be published in a given adequate time frame for comment prior to a levy vote.
I urge you all to consider the above when voting. Ask the questions on how these measures came to be. The practice of prudence is now more important than ever considering that prior years' levy dollars justified by forecasted growth never came to fruition.
Ronald Braun, Woodinville