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Levy backers aim for passing grade

Letters to the editor and opinions at the water cooler are flowing as Feb. 9 nears for Sequim's school levy ballots.

Those for and against are making a last push for voters to either check "yea" or "nay" to the district's three-year plan that could ease problems in classrooms and/or increase them for fixed income households.

For advocates like Citizens for Sequim Schools, the challenges have been many. They cite a number of reasons voters might turn down the levy.

Sarah Bedinger, a Sequim school board member and Citizens for Sequim Schools volunteer, said numbers in favor of past levies were low because many parents forgot to mail in their ballots. Those who voted no were mostly anti-tax-minded people and those on limited incomes.

She and E. Michael McAleer, Citizens for Sequim Schools president, say they have encountered several people at events using this last argument against the levy.

"We're not asking you to do something outside your capabilities," Bedinger said.

"We are asking for what's needed."

When McAleer discusses the levy with fixed-income people, he says every dollar counts.

"When we leave to agree to disagree, I hope they think about the schools as priority for government spending," he said.

Other hand

John Sartori, a Sequim resident and opponent of the levy, said an undetermined financial future requires a cautious approach.

"Making a levy request based upon an undetermined amount of need is not right," Sartori said.

"We don't know enough to have any kind of preciseness of what the following years might be because they could be better or it might be worse."

He believes most people during the economic crunch are making sacrifices with benefit and salary cuts, but the school district has a sense of entitlement.

"Yes, we all want the students to get a good education but that doesn't equate to more money spent," Sartori said.

"Do they not understand that this is affecting everyone? Do we need 25-percent unemployment for them to understand?"

Economic crunch

Bedinger said during this economic crisis, people could spend their money on a lot of things rather than schools.

"But, even in these bad times, education is a great investment," she said.

"This is an important use of tax dollars especially when it comes to laying down a good society," McAleer said.

"Our appeal is, don't throw the baby out with the bath water."

Citizens' group volunteers say the current numbers show Sequim is way behind similar districts in adequate funding.

Prescription plan

Sequim medical professionals and Olympic Medical Center commissioners have openly supported the levy.

OMC commissioners unanimously passed a resolution supporting the levy at their meeting Wednesday, Jan. 20.

The board "recognizes the importance of quality public schools in the recruitment and retention of health care workers and professionals," the resolution said, "and recognizes the importance of health and physical education in preparing students to adopt healthy lifestyles."

The schools also educate students for health care careers, according to the resolution.

Several medical professionals lent their names and paid for an ad endorsing the levy.

"There's a lot of frustration from our professionals that (the schools) are underfunded," Bedinger said.

"They have a choice where they want to go and, no matter where they live, they want good opportunities for their kids."

Sartori believes many factors come into play for medical professionals when moving to a new area.

"Does schooling make the overriding difference? I don't think so," he said.

"For the very limited amount of professionals we are trying to attract, do you tailor your school system to accommodate just a small amount for what they want?"

Continued support

McAleer said it's not only medical groups endorsing the levy but Realtors and politicians, too.

Clallam County Commissioner Steve Tharinger and State Representative for the 24th District Kevin De Wege have written letters of support.

The Sequim City Council voted 5-0 Monday night to express its support for the school levy. Councilor Bill Huizinga was absent and Council Erik Erichsen abstained.

The importance of schools is not a localized event either, as McAleer, also a Realtor, was approached by Christopher Greimes, CEO for Allied Titanium Inc. in Delaware.

Greimes has been scouting new locations for a branch in Sequim.

McAleer said during the discussion he was told the branch could bring 40 to 80 jobs but Greimes' first concern was local schooling.

Allied Titanium opened a branch in another region but ended up paying extra dollars to train employees because public schools didn't provide adequate schooling even for an entry-level position, McAleer said.

Bad timing

Opponents of the levy don't see the chances of new industry and businesses as a reason to invest more in schools at a bad time.

Sequim resident Peter Ignatjev said many of those paying for the levy are on fixed incomes.

"When you look at the (levy rate) jump from 2012 to 2013, where are we supposed to get our money?" he asked.

"How are people on fixed incomes supposed to increase their income? There's no cost-of-living increase for Social Security this year."

People age 60 and older make up about one-third of Clallam County's population.

In Sequim, numbers are harder to discern but, with more retirement communities and programs compared to other Clallam cities and towns, its percentage probably is higher.

Projected Sequim school enrollment forecasts a de-cline from 2009-2010's 2,737 to 2,616 in 2012-2013.

The levy rate per student goes from $1,185 to $2,209.

"If they are having less students, why do they need double the money?" Ignatjev asks.

"If (retirees and seniors) don't have any way to increase their income, they've worked all their lives. Why in your retirement years should you be asked for even more?"

The citizen's group volunteers encourage residents ages 61 and up or disabled and earning less than $35,000 annually to contact the Clallam County Assessor at 417-2204 because they might be exempt from the levy.

Sequim's viability

But Ignatjev and Sartori feel more could be done in the schools rather than asking for so much money in the future.

"I don't know anyone who has gotten a substantial raise, and a few friends have lost their jobs," Ignatjev said.

"It seems (the schools) are putting out some good product. They are going to have to level off."

He attributes many peoples' reluctance toward the school levy to rising bills for sewer, rent, health plans and concern for future levies such as the library.

"It's going to be a question of whether you want to or you have to," Ignatjev said.

"Everyone has to live within their means."

He suggests turning to more private groups such as the Bill Gates Foundation for potential funding.

Sartori favors a good school system and believes everyone does, but he wants it equitable and affordable.

"(School leaders) need to look at costs and challenge what's nice versus necessary," Sartori said.

"We need to tighten our belt and do what we can without destroying (schools) because it's worth spending the money to get it right."

McAleer said Citizens for Sequim Schools raised money for the levy campaign separately from the school district through a Santa's breakfast, golf tournament and campaigning. The money bought signs, advertising and mailers.

It costs $20,000 for the Sequim School District to run the special election.

State law gives campaigns an option to do a two-, three- or four-year levy.

"If it were to fail, the district is run so thin that they cannot run the school district as a town like Sequim should have. We can't have a community," McAleer said.

"There are people who make assumptions about how school districts manage their money," Bedinger said.

"I think it would be wise of them to check their facts."

More information about the school levy can be found at www.sequimschools.com or www.sequimschools.wednet.edu.

Sequim leads as balloting begins Clallam County Auditor Patty Rosand said voted ballots have started to return for the Feb. 9 elections.

Out of 23,033 registered voters eligible for levy elections in the Sequim and Cape Flattery school districts and in Fire District 4 in Joyce, 2,272 had returned ballots as of Tuesday, Jan. 26, an overall return rate of 9.86 percent.

Sequim School District has 20,527 registered voters with 3,307 ballots returned, a 16.11 percent rate.

Cape Flattery has 1,072 voters and 28 returned ballots, or 2.61 percent. Fire District 4 has 1,434 voters and 134 returned ballots, 9.34 percent.

Ballots must be postmarked or dropped in a ballot drop box by midnight Tuesday, Feb. 9. Any voter who has not received a ballot should call the auditor's office, 417-2221, for a replacement.


Reach Matthew Nash at mnash@sequimgazette.com.

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