School levy marks an investment in our district’s future — and our kids’ future

It is not news to most of us that the State of Washington does not fully fund the operation of public K-12 schools in Washington. The state has an even smaller role in building and renovating public school buildings.

Communities like Vashon rely on local property tax levies and bonds to bridge the gap between what the state gives us and what we need to operate our schools and build or modernize facilities. These levies must be renewed every three to four years to assure continuity of operations and ad-dressing needs with our facilities.

This November, voters are being asked to renew one of our two key periodic levies — a three-year technology and capital maintenance levy.

Next February, the community will be asked to continue our four-year operations levy. The November levy, if approved, would collect $900,000 a year for three years.

What will the November levy accomplish? This levy has two components: to support technology in the school district and to support preventive maintenance and capital needs.

The technology funds would allow the district to continue supporting basic instructional technology. This is the nuts and bolts of providing computing and network resources — things like Internet access, software, computers, printers, network infrastructure and support for our teachers and students. Technology levies also support the business operations of the district, including student information, food services, the school district Web site, fiscal management and security.

The preventive maintenance dollars, meanwhile, would provide staff, equipment and computer systems to improve productivity, undertake some major repairs and create a reserve fund for unanticipated expenses.

During the campaign for a bond measure to rebuild and restore portions of the school district, we heard over and over that the district is not properly maintaining its buildings.

Historically, that has been true. Too often, repairing buildings took back seat to other district or community priorities, including small class sizes. I am proud to say this school board has made developing a comprehensive maintenance plan one of its highest priorities. Tough decisions have been made between fundamentals such as classroom instruction and facilities maintenance. The levy will help us get to a fully funded maintenance plan.

Why now? Our previous technology levy expired two years ago and funding our technology and IT programs has left our capital reserve fund seriously depleted. In addition, there has been a change in state law that allows us to fund preventive maintenance from capital levies rather than from our general fund — the fund that pays for teachers and supplies.

If we do nothing, then these district functions will have to be covered by other sources (such as the general fund) or be eliminated.

What will it cost? The levy amount — $900,000 a year — is somewhat less than the average amount we collected from 2002 to 2007. The district did not levy taxes in 2008 and 2009, so this levy represents an increase in your taxes rather than the continuation of an existing levy. The levy rate is estimated at $0.34 for every $1,000 of assessed value. For a $400,000 property that would mean an increase of about $136 a year and $170 a year for a property worth $500,000.

Renewing this levy will allow the district to systematically identify and address facility maintenance issues before they become problems. It will also provide an adequate level of technology for learning and business operations. In other words, it’s an investment we can’t afford not to make. If we don’t renew the levy, our capital budget will be depleted within the next two years. After that, money for major repairs, preventive maintenance and technology improvements will need to come out of the general fund, which will mean less money for the classroom. The choice is yours. Please vote yes in November.

— John “Oz” Osborne is a Vashon Island School District board member.

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