Sequim School Board approves EP&O levy plan

One project maintains what the district offers, while the other is a bit of addition by subtraction.

Sequim School District’s board of directors agreed Monday night to ask for the community’s continued support with replacing the district’s programs and operations levy, and got a look at details about a capital projects levy that will provide funding for future school construction.

By a unanimous vote, directors agreed to put a four-year, $26.5 million Education Programs and Operations (EP&O) levy on a Feb. 14, 2017, ballot.

Over four years (2018-2021), the levy would pay for more teachers to reduce class sizes, programs like Highly Capable and Advanced Placement courses, curriculum, books and technology, overall district maintenance and activities such as sports and after-school clubs.

The first year of the EP&O levy, to be collected in 2018, is about $6.3 million, and would lower tax rates for property owners in the Sequim School District from $1.61 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to $1.52 in 2018.

The EP&O levy would see slight increases in the tax rate up to $1.57 per $1,000 in 2021, the final year of levy collection.

“I like that it’s maintaining the current rate,” Sequim School Board president Robin Henrikson said. “I’m more of a conservative person when it comes to taxing. We’ll be able to continue our programs.”

The district’s current levy expires at the end of 2017.

“The numbers (look like) what we’ve done before,” school board member Jim Stoffer said. “It is at a lower tax rate, which should resonate with our community.”

The board voted 4-0 to accept the levy resolution; director Bev Horan was absent.

“It’s more critical than ever we pass the EP&O levy,” Brian Kuh, president for Citizens for Sequim Schools, said. His group promotes passage of Sequim school levy and bond proposals.

“We’re excited,” Kuh said.

Details of a capital projects levy

Sequim voters also may see another levy on that February 2017 ballot.

Sequim schools superintendent Gary Neal gave board directors details about a capital projects plan that pays for the demolition of an unused portion of the Sequim Community School and remodel of the district’s base kitchen, also located at the community school.

Neal said the capital projects levy is the result of months of trying to figure out how to address building needs in the district in the shadow of four bond proposal failures since April 2014.

“We can’t keep using bond (votes) as a scientific survey to tell us what the community will support,” Neal said.

With numerous projects from previous bond votes not included on this plan — building new science classrooms and a band/choir room at Sequim High School, plus expansion at Greywolf Elementary School, among others — the district is looking to continue to address needs, Neal said, and take advantage of up to $4.3 million in state funds Sequim would receive by demolishing part of the community school. Those funds would need to be used for new construction, district officials said.

“That’s kind of the albatross around our neck,” Neal said of the building located between Fir and Alder streets.

Built in 1949, the portion of the Sequim Community School marked for demolition has been unused for several years because of safety concerns and heating cost issues.

“There’s probably a good chance for asbestos in there,” Neal said. “Stripping it down to the studs wouldn’t be enough. Right now it would be cheaper to take it down to the ground.”

Demolition would leave the base kitchen, some newer classrooms and all rooms used by the Olympic Peninsula Academy, the district’s parent partnership program, intact.

Capital projects levies can be up to six years and are used to buy land, make additions to or remodel buildings, improve school grounds or buy some initial equipment for future projects.

Sequim’s district base kitchen is outfitted with 1950s-era equipment and has limited space, Neal said. It also has freezer space for just two days worth of food for the district’s 2,700-plus students.

Henrikson said she likes the capital project plan because it gets funding back to the district.

“They are two very straight-forward projects,” Henrikson said. “We can see the start and the end (and it) has the biggest bang for the buck.”

“It shouldn’t take us too long to do and keeps the tax rate reasonable,” Neal said.

Levy details to come

Neal said he expects to have the capital projects proposal, including overall cost, at the board’s next meeting on Nov. 7.

“We are working on coming up with some final numbers,” Heidi Hietpas, interim executive director of finance and operations, said — in particular the overall cost of the community school demolition.

Neal said the district has a recent history of proposing two levies at the same time. In 2013, Sequim voters approved both an EP&O levy (at 67.69 percent) and a transportation vehicle fund levy (64.96 percent) that helped the district update an aging bus fleet.

Still, the board could choose to talk about the capital projects levy details at Nov. 21 and Dec. 5 meetings. The Clallam County Elections Department’s February 2017 special election ballot cutoff date is Dec. 16.

Neal said he plans to meet with representatives of each school and district department regarding the levy.

Reach Sequim Gazette editor Michael Dashiell at editor@sequimgazette.com.