School district seeks funds for tech, maintenance

Classmates watch as two girls, Charlotte Gunn and Keeley Green, sit at the computer and try to place the names of states in the right spots on a map of the United States. - Leslie Brown/staff photo
Classmates watch as two girls, Charlotte Gunn and Keeley Green, sit at the computer and try to place the names of states in the right spots on a map of the United States.
— image credit: Leslie Brown/staff photo

When Island voters receive their ballots for the Nov. 3 mail-in election this week, they’ll be asked to endorse a three-year, $2.7 million levy to pay for maintenance and technology at Vashon’s three public schools.

The measure attempts to address an issue Islanders raised during a failed bond measure earlier this year — when some asked the school district why they should foot the bill for a new high school classroom building in light of what they saw as years of deferred maintenance. If the levy passes, district officials would dedicate about $300,000 a year to the schools’ physical upkeep, funds that would cover a range of needs — from replacing aging drinking fountains to hiring an additional maintenance person.

The levy would also work to keep the Vashon Island School District in the 21st century, backers of the measure say. The district’s current technology fund will zero out at the end of this academic year; if the levy doesn’t pass, the district would either have to go without basic technological support or raid the pot of money that covers books and teachers to fund needed technology, according to district officials.

Passage of the levy would fund technology to the tune of about $600,000 a year, covering not only such basics as software relicensing but also cutting-edge concepts such as a full-time technology literacy coach to support teachers in their use of technology in the classroom.

Superintendent Michael Soltman said he believes the levy proposal before voters is evidence that school district officials are listening to the community’s concerns.

“It allows us to keep our promise to the community to fully maintain and take care of our buildings; it’s responsive to the community’s request that we do so,” he said.

As for the technological portion of the levy, the need is essential, he said. “There’s absolutely no state funding provided for technology,” he said.

Support for the measure appears strong. Organizers of an election forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Vashon PTSA — slated for tonight — could not find anyone to speak against the levy, despite a concerted effort, said Ellen Kritzman, a civic activist helping to organize the forum.

In fact, Islander Hilary Emmer, who led the charge against the school district’s $75.5 million bond measure, which was defeated in March, wrote the “pro” side for the district’s levy proposal for the voter’s pamphlet.

“This is the levy we want,” she wrote, “money for maintenance and money for instructional technology.”

Teachers say they can vouch for the role technology can play in a classroom.

At Chautauqua Ele-mentary School, Gerie Wilson’s first-through-third-grade class was lively on Monday, when kids used a computer to try to place the names of states on a map projected onto a large screen. Two children sat before the computer, using a mouse to drag the name of the state to the right spot, while others sat on the floor and watched, calling out advice and encouragement.

Wilson, 58, admitted that technology was initially not her forte. But after she got a computer with Internet connection that hooks up to a movie-sized screen, “it really ramped up my style,” she said.

“I’m trying to capture the imagination and focus of all those children,” she added. “And when I use that big screen, I have everybody — I just have everybody’s attention.”

But some worry about the measure’s impact, especially in light of the fact that two more requests for school district funding will likely come before voters in three months. The district plans to put forward a maintenance and operation levy as well as a measure that will again try to garner the funds to rebuild portions of Vashon High School.

“I do think supporting the schools is important. That’s our future,” said Carol Ireland-McLean, a retired health care administrator.

“But I worry about people on limited incomes who keep getting taxed and taxed and taxed.”

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