South Whidbey School District levy has big lead in early voting

A two-part replacement levy to cover maintenance and capital improvement projects and to fund technology improvements for the next three years is passing handily in the South Whidbey School District.

Early results of the mail-in balloting announced Tuesday night by the Island County Auditor's Office showed both measures receiving more than 60-percent favorable votes.

A capital improvement request to provide $700,000 for technology upgrades and $250,000 to cover roof repairs on two schools received 3,348 yes votes, and 2,180 no votes, 60.56 percent versus 39.44 percent.

A request to continue funding for maintenance-and-operations expenses received 3,438 yes votes in early returns, or 62.10 percent, versus 2,098 no votes, or 37.9 percent.

A simple majority was required for both measures to pass.

"This is really good news," said Leigh Anderson, chairwoman of the South Whidbey School District board. "We're very happy the voters have confidence in what we're doing, and support us at a level to keep our programs running."

"We were confident they would pass, but were worried it would be by a low margin because of the economic situation," she added.

The district had asked voters to approve a three-year levy at a tax rate of $1.03 per $1,000 of assessed property value, a slight drop from the $1.06 tax rate that voters approved in 2008.

The levy will cost the owner of a $300,000 home roughly $309 per year.

School officials say the levy will help maintain lower class sizes and current levels of programs and services, keep salaries competitive, cover special education, food service and transportation costs, repair the elementary and high school roofs, upgrade classroom technology and improve student learning by providing more teacher and staff technology training.

The replacement levy was broken into two parts.

The district asked for 20 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation to provide for upgrades in technology and cover needed roof repairs.

The second request was to cover continuing maintenance-and-operations expenses not fully funded by the state, including salaries, food service, utilities and transportation.

In the first year, that amount is 83 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, or $3.9 million — the same as in 2009. In the second and third years, the district needs roughly the same amounts to cover operations.

School officials noted before the vote that, of the 50 states, Washington spends about $8,300 per student, 39th highest in the nation.

The school district is facing declining enrollment, deteriorating facilities and a budget shortfall of $1.85 million dollars.

Before the vote, school board member Rich Parker had said the levy represents the contribution by South Enders to preserve a quality education.

"The bottom line is that the levy is essential, and we will continue to use the funding provided in a responsible fashion," he said.

Also before the vote, Anderson had warned that failure of the second part of the levy would result in substantial cuts to programs and services, including teachers and staff.

Anderson said Tuesday the school board's next move will be to decide in late March whether or not to submit a bond issue to voters of the district in May to pay for improvements to accommodate school-consolidation plans.

The district says it will relocate Langley Middle School students to the high school no later than September 2012, and may need more money from voters to make the plan work.

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