Seeking a more firm financial reality for the next four years — something their district couldn’t get from the Washington state Legislature — the Sequim School Board of Directors voted Monday to bring a four-year maintenance and operations levy proposal to voters in February.
In a unanimous vote, the five directors agreed to ask voters to approve a replacement levy for $5.78 million per year — the same amount Sequim schools collect in the final year of the current M&O levy — for the years 2014-2017.
“There’s something to be said for stable funding,” Sequim school board president Virginia O’Neil said. “In my time as a school board director (of six years), the state has cut us every year.”
Maintenance and operations levies provide staffing to reduce class sizes, special education staff, school nurses, transportation and staffing for extra-curricular activities (including sports), technology upgrades and more.
In previous years, the Sequim School Board has voted for two- and three-year proposals, but were unanimous in their vote to pursue four years.
“I think one of the reasons it is unanimous is that we put a lot of time in coming into that decision — months and months,” O’Neil said.
The board also agreed to ask voters for a Transportation Vehicle Fund Levy — a one-year, $1.6 million proposal — to replace an aging collection of school buses.
“We’ve never done that before,” O’Neil said of the transportation proposal. “When you look behind the reasons, we want to establish a stable economic situation for our buses for the future. We will be able to fund our buses sustainably for the next 20 years. Our job, as a school board, is to recommend the most fiscal, sound practice. I feel confident we’ve done that.”
The proposal goes to voters in late January by mail, with a Feb. 12 election date.
Citizens for Sequim Schools is the grassroots group that promotes Sequim levy proposals.
Group president E. Michael McAleer said he’s confident the proposal will pass — if fellow CFSS helpers do their job.
“If we explain the need and talk in a forthright frank manner about what is being proposed (it will pass), he said. “If you cover it in an honest way, the voters will approve it.”
Part of explaining the district’s needs falls to Citizens for Sequim Schools, who can promote a “yes” vote for the proposals, while district officials may only provide levy information, to local civic groups. Some district officials, such as O’Neil and former board president Sarah Bedinger, are board members with CFSS, however.
O’Neil said she estimated at least 30 such presentations between the two entities.
“In our state, you can’t run (schools) without local tax levy dollars; it can be a tough task to get people to tax themselves,” McAleer said. “When it comes to government hours being spent, people tend to agree the best long-term investment with tax dollars for a community and a society is in local schools.”
The biggest challenge to selling the levy proposals, school board member John Bridge said, comes down to dollars.
“These are difficult financial times for everybody,” he said, “(but) I’m confident the Sequim community has, as one of its top priority, education of kids. No one has the money they had 10 years ago, but this is an important time for (students). We can’t shortchange them.”
Sequim school officials held a community meeting and invited responses to levy proposals with an online survey; O’Neil said via the survey, the district received more than 550 responses.
“The important thing is, we’re reaching out,” O’Neil said.
“It’s very humbling to be a public servant who has to ask the public for funding,” she said. “The community has been very supportive in the past. I hope they will this time and I hope they will come to us if we have questions.”
Brian Lewis, Sequim School District’s business manager, said that in 2012-2013 maintenance and operation levy funds comprised about 20 percent of total district revenues, up from 15 percent from a year before (2011-2012), because of decreases in state funding.
Ballots are sent through the mail on Jan. 25.