Help our school district thrive by voting ‘yes’

Voters are deciding the fate of a levy measure that would provide $1.95 million a year to Vashon Island School District.

Ballots have arrived in island mailboxes — and Vashon voters are now deciding the fate of a levy measure that would provide $1.95 million a year to Vashon Island School District to address safety, security, capital improvements and technology (CapTech) needs from 2025 through 2028.

For the sake of our island youth, we hope the answer is a resounding “yes” — as it was in 2020 when the district’s current CapTech levy was approved by a 73% margin. And before that, Vashon voters have regularly approved four-year CapTech levies since 2001.

The new levy will fund approximately 6.2% of the district’s annual budget, filling the gap between what the state provides and the actual cost of preserving the district’s assets and staying current with rapidly changing technologies.

The current CapTech levy, approved in 2020, authorized the district to collect tax revenue of about $1.5 million annually from 2021 through 2024. The 2025-2028 levy would be a 30 percent increase, but still, like the old levy, account for only about 3% of islanders’ total property tax bills.

In deciding the amount of the levy ask, the school board and administration, over several months, considered several different scenarios that calculated inflationary costs for supplies and materials, as well as anticipated annual increases of 7% in staffing costs over four years. They concluded that keeping the levy at $1.5 million a year would result in serious budget shortfalls by 2028.

The current levy will cost the owner of a $700,000 home about $238 this year. If the proposed levy is approved, that would increase to $308 in 2025, the district estimates.

What will the levy pay for, and why is it so important that it passes?

According to a fact sheet from the district, the levy will pay for enhanced security measures aimed at student and staff safety, including upgrades of entry and exit controls and door locks on school buildings, interior and exterior security cameras, and other security measures including internet filters and monitors.

It will also fund the district’s maintenance and supply of Chromebooks distributed to all students; computers, docking stations, printers and supplies used by school staff; and a wide array of other software and infrastructure including firewall services, off-site data storage and contracted IT expenses.

Capital improvements to be funded by the levy include improvements to McMurray Middle School’s restrooms, and upgrading heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems and equipment (HVAC) in all district schools — an important health consideration for schools in the post-COVID era.

Levy dollars will also be earmarked to pay the staffing costs of 3.6 full-time technology staff members — the folks who keep all the systems humming.

Significantly, the levy will pay for the much-needed replacement of Chautauqua Elementary School’s fire alarm control panel, which monitors sensors throughout the building. The cost of that panel? $450,000.

Another need deemed urgent by the district is the replacement of the elementary school’s large and deteriorating play structure, for $500,000. The play structure has been patched together for years now, as elements become unsafe and must be cordoned off to students and the public.

“We’re limping along,” Superintendent Slade McSheehy said in a recent interview, discussing the play structure. “It’s unfortunate that the state does not fund capital improvements.”

We agree that state funding for schools is woefully inadequate, and would add that it will likely continue to be so as long as Washington continues to refuse considering the biggest fix of all. That, of course, would be establishing a state income tax (requiring an amendment to the state constitution) that would allow those who have amassed tremendous wealth in Washington — profiting mightily from the infrastructure and institutions of the state — to give back what should be the considered their fair share.

Until then, we’ll be stuck with highly inequitable and burdensome property tax measures — one of the worst possible ways of funding government.

The consequences of the levy’s failure would be dire, resulting in dramatic staffing reductions across all groups, as well as degraded technology services provided to island students, families and staff.

We can’t let that happen on Vashon Island. Vote yes for the CapTech levy.