School leaders: EPO, capital project levies on hold until early 2021

A pair of levy proposals — one that sustains about 17 percent of the Sequim School District’s annual budget, the second to help address a myriad issues at school buildings — won’t come to local voters in November as planned, school leaders say.

That seemed to be the consensus among school board directors in early July, as Sequim schools superintendent Dr. Rob Clark detailed Educational Program & Operations (EP&O) and capital projects levies he and staff were drafting for possible inclusion on the November General Election ballot.

“Realistically (we) felt good about that for a couple of months,” Clark told school board members at a July 1 workshop.

“It’s kind of exploded. As much as I would like to run (those issues) in November, I think that’s ill-advised,” Clark said. “I just don’t think that trying to get school re-opened and in the mode we need to, and running a levy and a capital projects levy, I don’t think there’s a time in the day.

“I don’t think there’s an avenue to get the information out and I just think people’s minds will be on other things.”

Board directors concurred with Clark’s view, as the five-member board plans to reopen schools this September with some form of “hybrid” model of remote and in-person learning.

“We don’t know what going back is going to look like completely,” board president Brandino Gibson said. “I know that there’s some tension regarding opening, and how that’s going to be handled.”

Board director Brian Kuh added, “I think that (focus) would dilute a really effective campaign.”

Sequim’s EP&O levy, formerly a Maintenance and Operations Levy, makes up about $6.9 million of the district’s 2020-2021 budget and pays for staffing (teachers, paraeducators), some food services and transportation, technology and special education services not covered by federal funds. That levy runs out after the 2021 calendar year.

The district’s proposed capital projects levy would not — as in previous project proposals — pay for a new elementary school, but rather pay for various building needs across the district including, among other items: electronic lock systems at several buildings; a new roof, sewer connection and heating upgrades at Greywolf Elementary School; a fire sprinkler system and kitchen remodel at Helen Haller Elementary; a roof replacement and intercoms at Sequim Middle School; heating system and science classroom upgrades, and gym and cafeteria floor replacement at Sequim High School; a water/sewer connection at Olympic Peninsula Academy; a heating system at the former Sequim Community School gym; replacement of the school stadium’s track and remodeled stadium restrooms, and paving projects throughout the district.

The capital project levy would run $3 million-$3.5 million each year for three years, Clark said.

The Sequim School District’s most recent capital projects levy, a three-year, $5.75 million levy voters approved in 2017 that paid for he district’s new central kitchen and deconstruction of the unused community school, in paid off in December 2020.

If board directors defer one or both of the levy proposals past November, the earliest they could run a ballot measure is Feb. 9. They would need to submit their plan(s) to county election officials by Dec. 11, Clark said.

“There’s not doubt we’re going to need an EP&O (levy),” board director Jim Stoffer said. “Maybe this will give us a little more breathing room to gather a citizen’s group to help with the campaigning.”

The district could run one levy proposal in November and another in February, but Clark advised against it, citing possible voter confusion (“Didn’t we just vote for this?”).

The additional time, Clark noted, gives the community a chance to view, discuss and critique capital project improvement plans. It also gives the district time to develop support from Citizens for Sequim Schools — the grassroots group that traditionally supports local school levy and bond proposals — or another group.

Looking long-term, passage of a capital project levy as described would set the school district up to ask voters to consider supporting a measure for either a new elementary school or a Sequim High School upgrade by 2024 or 2025, Clark said.

Regardless of the capital project levy plans, Clark said the district needs to run an EP&O levy soon.

“We have to run the EP&O levy in February; that’s a done deal,” he said. “To try and run this school district without 17 percent of (the) budget … it would be a shell of itself.”

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