Property tax levy renewals would mean upgrades, maintenance for Seattle schools

By Mwiza Kalisa, Schools First

On February 12th, Seattle voters will be asked to renew two property tax levies. The levies would bridge state funding gaps and support facility improvements for Seattle Public Schools. If the levies are renewed, Ballard High School would receive technology upgrades and building improvements; without the renewal, BHS could face program cuts and teacher layoffs.

The operations levy, Proposition 1, will provide funding for about 26 percent of Seattle Public School’s operating budget. Over the next three years, the $551.9 million school levy will provide funding for textbooks, teacher’s salaries, transportation, security and special-education programs, among other day-to-day costs not fully funded by the State.

The $694.9 million Capital Levy (BEX IV) will provide funding to maintain, improve and expand school buildings.

“What makes this country great is that everybody can get an education,” said Heidi Bennett, a parent advocate and PTA leader. Bennett has children in Ballard High School and Ingraham High School, where she says there is a lack of smaller classroom sizes, elective choices and academic counselors to help motivate and keep students engaged.

“It’s wonderful that Seattle’s population density has increased, but we need schools to accommodate our growing communities,” she said. “The capital levy provides that.”

Bennett believes that the renewals are the key to the cities success. “If we want jobs we need educated kids to fill them,” she said. “Failure is not an option, without the levy we would have to lose one out of every four teachers and we can’t let that happen.”

Julia Hanson is a student at Ballard High School and a former Whitman Middle School student. The latter is one of five schools that will receive funding for roof work. At Ballard High School, she says that it’s hard to get funding for programs. “I know Ballard has an amazing drama and music program, but that’s all self-funded,” she said. “It’s made us a strong community, but if we already had the money it would make those groups more fantastic than they already are.”

Hanson, who is ASB President, attributes her success as a student to the school’s leadership class. Hanson’s sixth period for high school is ASB Leadership, which is funded by the operations levy.

“It’s an experience that has completely shaped my life and my values,” she said. “The school levies have given me an opportunity to experience leadership and I don’t know where I would be without that class. It helped keep me out of trouble and it turned my life around.”

Recently there were funding cuts for clubs and extracurricular activities at Ballard High School. Additionally, the computers in the school are outdated. If the BEX IV Capital Levy is approved, all schools will receive technology upgrades that include wireless internet access and improved accounting systems.

Ballard High School principal Keven Wynkoop said that if the levies are not renewed, programs would be cut and the school would lose multiple teachers and counselors.

“The idea of losing 26 percent of the budget would have far-reaching impacts and there would be massive cuts across the board,” he said. “Without funding keeping pace, we will fall further behind.”

The renewal of the BEX Capital Levy will replace or renovate school buildings, many of which are more than 50 years old. Additionally, the levy will provide funding for new schools and school expansions in response to increased enrollment in recent years. Within the past year, enrollment in Seattle schools has increased by about 1,400 students and an additional 7,000 students are anticipated over the next decade. Wynkoop predicts that enrollment in Ballard schools will continue to grow. Currently, 1,625 students attend Ballard High School.

“Neither one of these levies is a new tax,” Wynkoop said. “We have to continue to educate our students as best we can. If you look at schools that were rebuilt in the last 15 years, they have all been huge successes.”

Wynkoop, who is also a third generation Ballard High School graduate, would like to see changes in the school’s security system and learning facilities. “To be able to have well-maintained buildings and to have access to technology and lab facilities makes a huge difference,” he said.

Wynkoop believes in the power of public education and he said that his beliefs and values are reflected to students at Ballard High School. “When I come to all evening events and see the powerful things our students are able to produce, with guidance from teachers and staff, it blows my mind,” he said. “It makes me believe that better times are ahead of us and anything is possible when our children mature and continue to grow.”

Both propositions are renewals of existing levies. If approved, these levies would cost the owner of a$400,000 home approximately $13 a month over what homeowners pay on the existing expiring levies.

Schools First is a grassroots, citizen-based organization that has conducted Seattle school levy campaigns since 1995.

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