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Our ‘paramount duty’: support Sequim’s schools

 Editorial by Sue Ellen Riesau

 

Students living in Washington are lucky in that they are guaranteed an education. It is, indeed, written into the state’s constitution, which says it is the “paramount duty” of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children within its borders.

 

While other states have constitutional provisions related to education, no other state makes K-12 education its “paramount duty.”

 

A good thing for our students, but, like many good things, it comes with a cost. In the case of educating some 1 million students in more than 2,300 public schools, the price tag is staggering.

 

So, if the state is required to provide basic education to all students, why then, do school districts seek maintenance and operations levies, or Education Programs and Operations (EP&O) levies as they are now known, such as the one the one the Sequim School District is putting before voters on Feb. 12?

 

Washington school levies are the key to every district’s budgetary success.

 

In 1978, a major decision by the Washington Supreme Court found that school districts may use local tax levies to fund enrichment programs and other programs outside the legislative definition of “basic education.”

 

Levies have become a pivotal part of every district’s budget, paying for additional classroom teachers and support staff, transportation, extracurricular activities and special and gifted education. Federal dollars are a pittance. That puts the burden on local taxpayers to fill the gap through local levy dollars.

 

The current two-year Maintenance and Operation Levy, passed by voters in 2010, will expire on Dec. 31, 2013.

 

As with everything else, the cost of education goes up every year and it takes more funding to provide the same programs. And the hue and cry from the public certainly demands more from public education in terms of preparing students for life beyond the classroom.

 

In January 2010 (the last time the school district mounted an M&O Levy), Eric Lewis, CEO of Olympic Medical Center, stated in a guest opinion, “It is our experience that the single most important selection criterion for a doctor and his or her family is quality of community and schools. Interestingly, quality of schools often trumps all other community selection criteria. Our ability to recruit and retain quality physicians, R.N.s and other health care professionals is directly related to our ability to provide a quality educational experience for their children.”

 

Passing the levy will ensure the same high quality Sequim’s schools now enjoy. A school district with an excellent reputation is one of the community’s strongest selling points. We owe it to our children to give them the best education possible, to provide them the opportunities to excel in their future careers, to prepare them to compete in the global market.

 

Sequim voters have consistently said yes to the younger generation. They understand the importance of passing the baton.

Transportation Vehicle Levy …

 

Why now?

 

At the same time the school district is asking support for a one-time-only, one-year Transportation Vehicle Fund Levy. This is a first for the Sequim School District and is courageously good planning, given the financially lean times we still are facing.

 

If citizens pass this $1.6 million levy, it will enable the district to get away from borrowing money (the district always has had to borrow money to purchase new buses) AND take advantage of the annual state depreciation reimbursements. Part of the pool of money that is regular school tax funding is set aside to reimburse schools for bus depreciation. Over the next two years the district has to buy 17 new buses and this levy positions the district to purchase buses without going into debt and then take advantage through saving those annual depreciation funds for future replacement.

 

It isn’t a simple explanation and anyone who wants a more in-depth update on what the state allows should call Brian Lewis, the school district’s business manager, at 582-3260 or visit the school district’s website at www.sequim.k12.wa.us//Domain/1, click on “Levy Q&A.”

 

Clallam is an all-mail ballot county. Ballots will be dropped in the mail today, Jan. 23. The final day to register to vote is Feb. 4. You may register to vote three ways: online, by mail or in person. Find instructions by clicking on the link at: https://wei.sos.wa.gov/county/clallam/en/Elections/voterinformation/Pages/Register_to_vote.aspx.

 

When you receive your ballot, please take the time to get your questions or concerns answered. And most importantly, take the time to vote.

 

Healthy Schools = Healthy Communities.

 

Thank you!

Sue Ellen Riesau is executive director of the Olympic View Community Foundation and former publisher of the Sequim Gazette and Olympic View Publishing.

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