Sequim school leaders consider EPO, capital projects levy proposals

A number of facility needs targeted by school advocates and staff in recent years are anticipated to go in front of voters in the form of a capital projects levy — alongside a replacement of the district’s Educational Programs and Operations (EP&O) levy — in February 2021.

Sequim School Board directors last week continued discussion about a proposed capital projects levy based on a list of district-wide facility improvements that totals about $18 million.

With board approval, the capital project levy plan would go to Clallam County officials before a Dec. 11 deadline, and voters would see the two levy proposals in a special Feb. 9 election.

Voters would receive ballots in the mail on or around Jan. 22.

Sequim’s acting superintendent Jane Pryne said she would like to see the district have a proposal to county officials soon in case wording needs to be changed.

“Sometimes in my experience … the wording isn’t exactly how the county attorney wants it on the ballots and it gives us time make that change,” she said at a Nov. 16 board meeting.

Board directors looked to synthesize what that capital projects levy would entail last week at a special workshop on Nov. 17, initially looking to trim about $4 million from a project list in order to run a three-year levy that would keep Sequim’s local school tax rate at what locals pay now, about $2 per $1,000 of assessed value.

However, unable to come to a consensus on either a final dollar figure or the length of the ballot measure — capital projects can be collected over six years — directors agreed to revisit the plan early this week in another special meeting.

The goal, directors said, was to consider levy options at three different funding marks — $13.3 million, $15 million and $18 million — and each at three-, four-, five- and six-year intervals.

(Because of early holiday deadlines, details from that meeting were unavailable at press time.)

Though not officially formed and sent to Clallam County officials, the levy plans earned the endorsement of the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce, Pryne and school board director Jim Stoffer noted earlier this month.

EP&O

Regardless of the specifics of a capital projects levy, Sequim school officials have in recent months preparing a four-year, $29.7 million EP&O levy for February.

Formerly called maintenance and operations (M&O) levies, EP&O levies are local taxpayer-supported measures covering costs related to supporting core learning opportunities but not supported in state’s basic education formula.

These kinds of levies generate funds typically spent on support staff, special education, transportation, some technology costs, food service and extra curricular programs such as art, sports, drama, music and choir. They also pay for librarians, school nurses and counselors.

“We cannot run this district without an EP&O levy,” said Rob Clark, Sequim schools superintendent, in a Oct. 22 interview. (Clark was later placed on paid leave.)

“It funds the lifeblood of this district,” he said.

This levy replaces Sequim’s current EP&O levy that expires at the end of the 2021 calendar year and would keep a similar tax rate of between $1.23 and $1.25 per $1,000 each year.

Local taxpayers pay $1.29 per $1,000 of assessed value for the current EP&O levy and $0.67 per $1,000 for a capital projects levy — one that funded construction of the district’s central kitchen — in 2020. That capital project is paid off at the end of 2020 and locals will see their local school levy tax drop to about $1.22 per $1,000 in 2021.

Clark had in recent months proposed a three-year, $14 million capital project levy that, if both levies passed, would have taxpayers pay about the same combined local tax levy rate they did this year: about $1.98 per $1,000 in 2022, $1.99 per $1,000 in 2023 and about $2 per $1,000 in 2024.

“I don’t want our taxpayers to pay more taxes,” Clark said. “We will benefit in the increased growth in increased valuation, going to pay at or around the next three or four years as we had the previous three or four years.”

Capital projects levy

A Sequim School District committee has in recent years developed a long list of facility improvements at each of the district’s five schools — Greywolf and Helen Haller elementary schools, Sequim Middle School, Sequim High School and Olympic Peninsula Academy — as well as the district office.

Initial items on the capital projects list include (by school):

Sequim High School — Updated science rooms, new HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system, resurfaced track, replaced floors in gymnasium and cafeteria, auditorium upgrade

Sequim Middle School — Roof replacement (partial), replacement of floors in gymnast, cafeteria

Greywolf Elementary School — Roof replacement (full), connection to Carlsborg sewer system

Helen Haller Elementary School — Kitchen remodel, fire alarms and sprinklers

Olympic Peninsula Academy — heating system upgrade, paved parking, connection to water and sewer systems, maintenance of adjacent gymnasium’s roof

The list was culled from committee work from staff and school advocates in 2016 and 2017, Clark said.

“Every campus is going to be touched,” he said. “Ultimately, when it passes, we will take care of every small project (the district has).”

Passage of the 2021 capital projects levy, Clark said, sets up the district to run a 20-year bond measure for a new elementary school to help overcrowding at Greywolf and Helen Haller.

The district can pay for some projects out of that general fund, as much as $500,000 or $600,000, but a list of projects this large needs to be addressed through a levy, he said.

“We just have facility needs,” Clark said. “Sequim’s not a poor community. Our schools should be in better condition than they are.”

Projects up close

John McAndie, the school district’s maintenance supervisor, provided board directors with greater detail on the capital projects list the Nov. 17 workshop (view a recording of that meeting at www.youtube.com/watch?v=sgXdVorWeyg).

“When I put this list together, my thought was just to zero out to district … to bring everything we have back to a functioning level,” he said.

“We’re running on 1980s technology. We’re spending a lot of man hours and a lot of manpower just trying to keep these systems running.”

Whatever form the capital project levy takes, it should include upgrades at the two elementary schools, he said.

“With Helen Haller, we’ve got a fire alarm is substandard (and) most of the portables are not connected in with the fire alarm,” McAndie said.

The lack of functioning intercom system at that school is troubling as well and should be replaced, he said.

“A lot of portables (at Helen Haller) aren’t connected with the system, either,” he said. “It’s kind of a problem when part of the school knows what’s going on, the other doesn’t. There are huge safety concerns there.”

Greywolf Elementary has a 32-year-old roof on it, McAndie added.

“We haven’t done any extensive remodeling to that school since it’s been open in 1992,” he said.

At Sequim Middle School, maintenance crews have been able to fix some of the roof issues over office areas but much of it needs to be replaced, McAndie said.

“The flat roofs and the prefab roofs over there are starting to show their age,” he said.

At the high school campus, heat pumps installed in 1998 need to be replaced, McAndie said.

“Those units (typically) have 20-year life expectancy; we’re now 22, 23 years on those particular units,” he said.

In addition, McAndie noted, “that gym’s floors been on the list (to replace for) the last 16 years I’ve been here.”

The heating system at the old community school gymnasium adjacent to the Olympic Peninsula Academy campus has was installed in 1979, McAndie said.

“We can no longer get parts for it,” he said.

Tech upgrades

The list also addresses technology needs across the district, including replacement of an antiquated phone system at the district office that staff repairs by finding part on eBay, Clark said.

Cost of a base district-wide network system is estimated at about $1.8 million.

If board directors need to cut from the original $18 million list, one option is to keep the base technology network upgrade and add other pieces of the technology puzzle later through grants or other funding sources, according to Beauregarde Young, Sequim School District’s information technology director.

“Because they are built on top of the network … you can piece-meal those without sacrificing quality,” Young said at the Nov. 17 workshop.

In response to Jeffryes’ concern about the possibility of shifting funds after a capital projects levy has passed for other pressing costs as they arise, Pryne said it’s possible — as long as they allowed under capital project levy rules.

However, she cautioned, that the public should be sold on the idea first.

“You’d have to have a really clear message on why you would do that, because your’e asking voters to vote on something specific and you have a list of items,” Pryne said.

“Really, you’d have to get ahead of the message and talk to the community about why you would want to take that money and use it for something other than what was on your list.”

Keeping the local tax levy rate low is key, Jeffryes said.

“I think trying to keep the combined levy rate for schools at $2 or under is going to be very important for our community; I’m hesitant to go above that,” he said.

Facility funding struggles

School district officials tried four times to pass a bond issue between 2014-2016, that would would have funded a new elementary school. Each failed, with the third bond measure —in February 2016 — fell short by less than one half of a percent of the 60 percent super-majority required.

While district is still in need of that elementary school in 2020, Clark said, “realistically, I don’t think we’re ready for a bond issue,” Clark said.

Passing a levy — actually, two, in one election — during a pandemic will be difficult, Clark said.

“It’s always a struggle (but) you have an obligation to the the community what your struggles are,” Clark said. “The community can say yes or no.”

In addition, the levy proposals will come on the heels of an intense November 2020 general election that saw record numbers of voters.

“I worry about election fatigue,” Clark said.

Clark said district officials will look to rejuvenate the Citizens for Sequim Schools group — the grassroots organization that supports school measures through campaign events — with different individuals.

“It will be a scaled-down campaign,” Clark said.

Whomever takes to role of promoting the levy plans will look to convince voters at a time when many students are learning remotely all day while elementary school students are spending just two days a week in Sequim classrooms for in-person instruction.

Some parents may be getting used to having their children at home, but Clark said that’s balanced out by parents needing the students physically back in school buildings.

“The value of teachers teaching has never been higher, in my lifetime,” Clark said.

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