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Schools set levy election

Three years, $14.7 million.

That's the maintenance and operations levy proposal Sequim's school board directors agreed to put before voters in a special election on Feb. 9, 2010.

Board members unanimously agreed to the plan after about two hours of debate on Nov. 10.

The proposal would generate $4.05 million in 2011, $4.9 million in 2012 and $5.78 million in 2013 from local taxpayers to reduce class sizes, pay for curriculum upgrades, purchase supplies and materials, upgrade facilities and restore a number of programs the district has cut recently.

Board directors were in agreement that the district needs to asks taxpayers for more than the current M&O levy collects - about $3.2M in the last of a four-year collection - but spent plenty of time deliberating how much to ask for in an uncertain economic climate.

"We find ourselves in this funding gap," Sequim school board president Sarah Bedinger said. "We have to balance our need with possible support (from the community). If it gets any worse, we'll be back here explaining why we're not doing any busing or ... buying any textbooks."



Lower class sizes

In the first year of the levy proposal, almost $400,000 would go to hiring additional full-time staff to lower class sizes and add an extended-day program (afterschool instruction), add about $170,000 to technology upgrades and $100,000 in curriculum purchases such as textbooks and other materials.

"We're going to keep (low class sizes) a priority," Sequim schools superintendent Bill Bentley said.

The second year sees a jump in collection to compensate for expected revenue shortfalls in state and federal dollars in 2011. Bentley said he and staffers aren't sure if either Initiative 728 (state) or stimulus (federal) dollars will continue into 2011.

The second year sees levy dollars pay for eight staffing and nearly five full-time support positions (about $740,000), reinstate some teacher contract days, plus boosts to the district's Highly Capable and food service programs.



Restore district nurse

In year three, levy dollars restore the district nurse position, adds $120,000 in textbook and teaching supplies, adds a counseling position and school resource officer, puts nearly $150,000 into maintenance of existing school facilities and boosts the district's technology hardware and software by more than $100,000, among other items.

See future editions of the Sequim Gazette for a detailed breakdown of the levy proposal.

Bedinger and fellow school board members John Bridge, Bev Horan, Walter Johnson and Virginia O'Neil approved the plan.

Even though the levy's third year maxes out the dollars the Sequim School District can ask from local taxpayers, the millage rate that year is $1.177 per $1,000 of property valuation - below that of nearby Port Townsend (currently $1.212) and well below that of both Port Angeles ($2.257) and the statewide average ($1.786).

Sequim also has the lowest rate of levy collections per student at less than $1,100, far below Port Angeles ($1,875), Port Townsend ($1,942), Chimacum ($1,738) and Crescent ($1,347) school districts.



Grass-rooters

The proposal is now in the hands of Citizens for

Sequim Schools, the grass-roots group that promotes passing local school levy proposals.

"We'll reach all of the service clubs we can," said Bedinger, who also works with the Citizens group.

She said the toughest part of the drive to get the M&O levy passed is simply communication.

"This is a complex issue," Bedinger said. "It's hard to explain to people if they don't want to engage. I think it will make sense to people."

Even if voters pass the newest levy proposal, the school district has other financial burdens looming. Sequim's aging fleet of buses and dilapidated school building roofs may mean the district asks for a transportation or capital projects bond - or both - in the near future.

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