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Vashon school board mulls maintenance and tech levy

The Vashon Island school board is expected to decide Thursday whether to ask voters to approve a $2.7 million levy aimed at continuing the district’s technology program and fully implementing a maintenance plan for its aging buildings.

The three-year levy, if approved, would cost Vashon property owners about 34 cents per $1,000 of assessed value — or $136 a year for a house valued at $400,000. It would appear on the November ballot.

Superintendent Michael Soltman said the levy is needed to continue a technology program already in place at the district’s three schools — a program that has been supported by previous technology levies.

This latest one, he said, would provide $900,000 a year for three years, enabling the district to hire a new technology literacy specialist who would offer coaching and training to help teachers integrate technology into their classrooms.

It would also allow the district to maintain another three staff members who oversee technical management, he said; maintain its hardware and software needs; maintain its computer labs; and add wiring and other hardware to enable teachers to use laptops, interactive whiteboards and other audio-visual tools in their classrooms.

The maintenance part of the levy, Soltman said, is in response to concerns raised during the school bond measure debate earlier this year, when several voters complained that the district wasn’t taking care of its existing structures well enough. By approving funds specifically targeted for maintenance, Soltman added, the school board will no longer be in the bind it has often found itself in — deciding whether to take money away from classroom instruction to maintain buildings and grounds.

Funds from the levy would go into the district’s capital budget rather than its operating budget, he added — something the district is able to now do because of a change the Legislature made during its last session.

The levy, Soltman said, “is responsive to what the community’s asked for. The community’s asked for us to fully fund a maintenance program and to take care of our buildings and facilities. ... They’ve asked us to implement a reasonable tech program for our students and basic operations. And they’ve asked us to preserve the instructional program as much as we can. ... With this levy, it’s possible to do all three of these things.”

Hilary Emmer, one of the most vocal critics of the failed $75.5 million bond measure, said she supports the proposed levy. Such an approach, she said, enables the district to begin collecting the money right away and without incurring millions of dollars in interest.

What’s more, she added, the move shows the district is responding to those voters who said the school system needed to show a commitment to maintenance before asking voters to provide millions of dollars for new facilities.

“They promised, and they’re coming through with their promise,” she said.

Bob Hennessey, who chairs the school board, said he believes the five-member board will likely approve placing the measure on the ballot. He strongly supports the proposal — what he calls “the meat and potatoes of running a school system.”

“The community has been very solid in supporting these types of levies historically. We just have to make our case now, and I expect we’re going to be able to do it,” he said.

The district’s maintenance director presented a plan a few months ago to fully fund maintenance at the district, something the school system has never found the funds to do, Hennessey noted. Should the levy win approval, the district would be able to address a wide range of maintenance needs — from minor repairs to the implementation of several preventative measures.

“It’s not a complete answer, but it’s a way for us to have a steady and consistent funding source to head off some of the pressure that we have that pits teaching against maintaining our facilities,” Hennessey said.

The school board is expected to vote on the levy at its meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 30, at McMurray Middle School. Also on the agenda is demolition of the Vashon Elementary School gym.

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