Election: County proposition could bring thousands to island organizations

Many Vashon organizations, including the school district, heritage association and arts center, among others, could receive thousands of dollars in additional funding from the county if a proposition on the August primary ballot passes.

The Sales Tax for Cultural Access Program (Access For All) — listed as Proposition 1 on the ballots sent to county voters today — offers a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax increase for seven years to fund a variety of arts, science, and culture programming. The increase would result in nearly $70 million earmarked for both increasing access to cultural education programs in schools and providing funding for cultural, arts and science organizations to expand programming to serve diverse and underserved populations through programs such as free and reduced-price offerings.

Cultural Access Washington (CAWA), an organization dedicated to increasing funding for the state’s cultural institutions, is spearheading the campaign for the program. CAWA officials say Access For All funding will help local organizations “do what they do, expand what they are already doing, and add new programs that they could not otherwise afford, all of which increases Access for All.”

The first piece of the Access For All puzzle involves $14 million to increase access to cultural programs for the county’s students. It will do this by requiring regional organizations (those with budgets that exceed $1.25 million) to use 20 percent of their Access For All funds for public school access activities. Money will also be awarded to school districts to fund field trip transportation, curriculum and teacher trainings. Funds will be awarded to every school district on a sliding scale, with the most money going to districts with high percentages of students on subsidized meal programs.

“Those who have the greatest need get the greatest benefit,” CAWA Director Jim Kraft said.

Vashon’s school district is one of 11 “priority districts” in King County needing increased access to cultural programming, according to an informal survey conducted by CAWA, which measured the percentage of children in the county’s 19 school districts who went on school field trips. According to that survey, of the Vashon school district’s more than 1,500 students, 820 —or 55 percent — participated in field trips in 2015. In Seattle, Mercer Island, Bellevue, Tukwila and other mainland districts, 90 percent of students participated that year.

CAWA General Manager David Brown said at a presentation to the Vashon Center for the Arts board last month that transportation is a major barrier “to equitable access for students to Arts, Science, and Heritage experiences in King County.” The Access For All (AFA) program fully funds these costs.

“A cultural access program could provide 100 percent of students in King County access to arts, science, and heritage experiences every year,” he said.

Meanwhile, under the second piece of Access For All, Vashon’s community organizations would receive funding awards. And while some financial modeling has been done by 4Culture, King County’s cultural services agency that will award funds if the program is approved, the exact allocation of money will not be known until the proposition is approved, an implementation plan is in place and applications have been submitted. However, Vashon’s non-profit arts and heritage organizations would be eligible to receive grant-based awards for everything from capital projects to programming and operations.

“If AFA passes, they would receive approximately nine times what they’re currently receiving from 4Culture,” the agency’s spokeswoman Christina DePaolo said.

4Culture regularly awards grants to cultural organizations throughout the county. In November 2015, the agency gave more than $1 million to Vashon Center for the Arts (Vashon Allied Arts at the time), the Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Association, Voice of Vashon and Friends of Mukai.

Those organizations could again be seeing county funding if AFA passes. According to Executive Director Susan Warner, Vashon Center for the Arts could receive between $150,000 and $200,000.

“There is a huge push to get this through — if the vote fails there will not be another opportunity to revisit this,” Warner said.

At Friends of Mukai, board president Lynn Greiner said she does not know how much the organization would receive, but knows it would be a benefit to the grassroots effort.

“Why we’re so excited is because more than $4 million would go to heritage organizations,” she said. “It could be a huge benefit for additional programming.”

The Friends organization is in the midst of a restoration project to repair the historic Mukai home and garden. King County also recently purchased the barrelling plant, and the group will be in charge of restoring it as well.

The Vashon Island Chorale could also benefit. Chorale board member Karen Baer said the organization, which presents at least two concerts per year, has minimal dues for participants and the dues do not cover the group’s expenses.

“We try to keep our ticket prices low and offer student and senior discounts so as to be accessible to as much of the island population as possible,” she said. “Now that we’re in the VCA with enough space on stage for singers and players we have been able to perform more complex masterworks with bigger orchestras. We’ve had to rely on grants and donations in order to finance these so getting help from the Access funds would be fantastic for us.”

Other island organizations that could receive funds through the program are Voice of Vashon, the Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Association, Keepers of Point Robinson and the Vashon Film Society, among others.

The Access For All program was approved to bring to voters by the King County Council in May. The Seattle Times reports the measure was met with opposition by District 5 councilmember Dave Upthegrove (Kent, Tukwila, SeaTac and Des Moines) and District 2 councilmember Larry Gossett (Capitol Hill, Beacon Hill, the Rainier Valley, Seward Park, Skyway and parts of north Seattle). Questions arose about “whether access to the arts was a top priority in a region facing a crisis in homelessness, mental-health issues, chronic cuts to the criminal-justice system and new taxes likely needed to adequately fund education in the state under the McCleary decision,” the Times’ May article indicates.

The council majority said the final measure added arts access and equity throughout the county, the Times reported.

Access For All falls under a state Cultural Access law passed in 2015 that allows any county in the state to put a measure before its voters to fund arts, heritage and science nonprofit organizations that provide public programs and activities.

The sales tax in King County is currently 10.1 percent. The increase proposed under the AFA program would add 1 cent to every $10 spent on non-essential items in King County for the next seven years.

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