Levy is essential to our schools’ excellence

By Michael Soltman and Laura Wishik

Ballots will soon arrive by mail for the renewal of the Vashon Island School District’s Maintenance and Operations (M&O) levy.

Nearly 20 percent of our schools’ annual budget depends upon this levy. M&O levy dollars flow directly to our classrooms, paying for enough teachers to support reasonable class sizes. The levy also supports important instructional programs, including advanced placement, visual and performing arts, vocational classes and co-curricular activities. Further, these funds are critical to sustaining custodial operations, transportation and routine maintenance of our facilities.

Regrettably, these same programs that make Vashon a leading district in the state are often subject to budget cuts when the district faces state revenue reductions. Academically, students in our district score in the top 25 percent in the state and gain entrance to colleges and universities across the country. Our athletic teams, our band and our debate team are recognized for exceptional student performance. Vashon High School is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a “Blue Ribbon School” for outstanding academic accomplishment.

Last year, reduced state funding took a toll on the district’s non-instructional costs, reducing administration, health services and transportation. In addition, we reduced art offerings, librarians and co-curricular activities. Gov. Chris Gregoire’s current budget proposal could require an additional 4 percent reduction in programs and services next year. Consequently, the renewal of the M&O levy for the next four years is absolutely essential to sustaining even the basic programs and services that we as a community value in our school district.

We are grateful for the support the Vashon community provides for its schools. The capital levy approved last November allows us to keep our promise to conduct regular preventative maintenance and to continue implementing technology essential to instruction and operations.

Still, in the future is the need to approve a capital facilities plan and bond to renovate our deteriorating high school campus. In response to community input our planning team has developed a two-phase project that will be communicated and presented to voters next November.

This M&O levy is crucial to making up part of the difference between state funding and what it actually costs to educate our students and operate our schools. By state law, school districts can only collect a certain percentage of their revenue from local levy funds.

In Vashon’s case, we collect 20 percent of our operating budget from the M&O levy. While we must provide the voters with specific totals for each year of a proposed levy, it is impossible to anticipate exactly how factors such as legislative decisions, inflation and employee negotiations will affect our local budget. Historically, the district has collected a smaller amount than that approved by the voters.

The proposed levy totals for the next four years take into consideration anticipated increases for teacher salaries promised by the legislature and anticipated cost increases for utilities and other fixed costs. Should these increases be smaller than anticipated, the difference will not be collected.

We are grateful to our community for its longstanding support of our M&O levies. We are committed to sustaining the excellence of our schools and trust that you will join us in voting “yes” for the renewal of the M&O levy.

— Michael Soltman is the Vashon Island School District superintendent. Laura Wishik chairs the school board.

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