Sequim levies make the grade

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Sequim Gazette staff

For weeks, Sequim school advocates have been stressing the importance of two levies to help fund programs the district offers and to fund a new fleet of buses.


On Feb. 12, voters showed their support for two Sequim School District proposals in overwhelming fashion, accepting a four-year Education Programs and Operations levy and a one-time Transportation Vehicle Fund levy.


The education programs levy earned 7,601 yes votes to 3,643 nay votes, or a little more than 67 percent; only a 50 percent simple majority was needed.


The Transportation Vehicle Fund earned 7,304 yes votes to 3,949 nay votes, a 65-35 split. As with the education programs levy, the transportation proposal also needed a simple majority to pass.


The next count after Friday will be on certification day, Feb. 26.


“This shows an incredible amount of trust from our community,” said Sequim School District superintendent Kelly Shea. “(The levies) allow us to push forward with the programs we provide for our students.”


The Educational Programs & Operations levy provides $5.78 million for each of the next four years, a continuation of what Sequim schools receive from local taxpayers in 2013. The Transportation Vehicle Fund Levy is a one-time, $1.6 million fund that helps Sequim school officials purchase more than 30 buses in the next 13 years. That sets the entire fleet on a state depreciation schedule and helps the district pay for newer buses in the future.


“This is definitely what we aimed for,” said Sarah Bedinger, Sequim school board director and campaign chairman of Citizens for Sequim Schools. “We always work to garner huge support from the community. It’s gratifying to know the community supports us.”


Bedinger and Shea joined nearly two dozen school advocates in the Clallam County Courthouse on election night, cheering and grinning after receiving the ballot results from election officials.


“This makes me glad to live where I live,” said E. Michael McAleer, president of Citizens for Sequim Schools, the group that spearheads Sequim levy promotion efforts.


“We’ve got a record of telling people the truth, what it’s going to cost them. I’m overwhelmed by the numbers. It’s really validating.”


McAleer said the citizens group’s job is made much easier because the Sequim School District does a good job spending the money, giving the community confidence in their schools.


“How great that … a town of retirees supports our kids, when their kids live in another town,” McAleer said.


Dave Shreffler, a Citizens for Sequim Schools board member, said there was some concern among levy advocates that the transportation levy would have a tougher time getting voter approval.


“(That levy) was more difficult to explain,” he said. “We felt if we were given the opportunity to explain it well … that kids need buses … people got the message. Ridership is going up. One way or another, we’re going to have to pay for buses.”


“It’s fantastic,” says SSD transportation supervisor Jeff Gossage, who describes the current bus fleet as “tired” and maintenance on the old busses, some of which are 25 years old, has become more difficult. With some busses having more than 250,000 miles on them, “some of the vehicles are becoming cost prohibitive to maintain.”


The new busses also bring new and improved safety standards for the fleet, as they will all be streamlined to a single standard from 2013, instead of standards from 1988 to 1997. Furthermore, Gossage says the the busses will be cleaner and more eco-friendly, allowing Sequim citizens to breath easier. While the staff are excited for the new vehicles, no one’s holding their breath, and Gossage says it will take time to pick up the busses.


“We won’t even be able to collect on the approved levy till 2014,” explains finance director Brian Lewis, “so we will receive that money in may 2014.” Even after receiving the funds, Lewis says that they’ll need to wait almost a half a year after placing the order for the new vehicles to arrive, a date he expects will be firmly between November and December 2014.


Both levy proposals earned approvals from the Sequim City Council and Olympic Medical Center’s board of commissioners.


Shea said that though passage of the levies is something to celebrate, there is work to be done.


“We have to continue to earn the community’s trust and the community’s confidence,” he said.

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