Lakewood schools send levies to voters

MARYSVILLE Lakewood School Superintendent Larry Francois said his district would need to make some $3 million to $4 million in budget cuts should voters ultimately decide against renewal of an existing maintenance and operating levy.
Francois said the levy currently generates about 17 percent of the districts budget.
Theres no way we could absorb that kind of hit, he said.
The operating levy is one of two issues Lakewood schools have on the ballot for Feb. 19. The second is a technology levy that Francois and others said would allow the district to greatly improve its educational equipment and tools.
People hear technology and they think of computers in the classroom, but theres more to it than that, said Tina Ross, one of two co-chairs of a committee working for passage of both issues.
According to the districts Web site, the technology levy would fund items such as interactive whiteboards, LCD projectors, classroom audio systems as well as the infrastructure cables and so on needed to make that equipment work.
Among other aspects, the levy also contains a security component, allowing the district to install video surveillance cameras at Lakewoods junior and senior high schools and on its school buses. Still, Francois said the operating levy is by far the more important of the two ballot questions. The levy would extend an issue approved by voters in 2004 and slated to expire at the end of this year.
The district estimates the operating levy would raise about $4.4 million in 2009, $4.8 million in 2010, $5.1 million in 2011 and $5.6 million in 2012.
For each $1,000 in property value, the levy would cost district property owners $1.85 in 2009, $1.73 in 2010, $1.62 in 2011 and $1.54 in 2012.
The current levy is costing property owners $2.17 per $1,000 in property valuation. The district claims that puts Lakewood among the least costly of local school districts.
By comparison, other district basic property tax rates are: Arlington, $2.32; Marysville, $2.62; Lake Stevens, $2.63 and Darrington, $3.12.
Francois said the operating levy covers about what you would expect it to cover, namely the day-to-day expenses of the district. He said the levy proceeds are very close to equaling every cost incurred by the district outside of employee salaries, paying for everything from transportation to textbooks.
People need to understand the state and federal government dont fully fund the basic education of our children, Ross added.
Lakewood district resident David Kiefer is the other co-chair of the levy committee. In regard to the technology levy, Kiefer said the issue would allow Lakewood to bring our kids up the current level of technology and allow our teachers to teach more efficiently.
The district projects the technology levy would cost 33 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value in 2009. The figure drops one cent each year over the four-year life of the levy.
Again according to district figures, the technology issue would raise about $800,000 next year with collections increasing approximately $100,000 each year over the life of the levy.
State law allows districts to go to voters with operating levies every four years. Should the operating issue fail in February, Francois feels Lakewood schools would have no choice but to approach voters again later this year. Under Washington rules, districts only get two chances each year to convince voters to pass operating issues.
Ross said she is cautiously optimistic about the chances of both levies. She said voters statewide may have done Lakewood a favor late last year when they changed rules requiring school levies earn 60 percent of all ballots cast in order to pass. Levies now need a simple majority from voters to gain approval.
When the current operating levy initially went before voters in 2004, it earned less than 60 percent of the vote and therefore failed. Voters approved it with a better than 60 percent margin during a second election, but Ross said it would have passed the first time had only a simple majority been needed.
Like all Washington elections, Lakewood School District voting is done by mail. For the February vote, initial ballots should go out from the county Jan. 31 and must be postmarked by Feb. 19 in order to be counted. Ross said its her committees primary goal to make sure voters in favor of the levy return their ballots.
Our message is that every vote truly is needed, she said.
Toward that end, the committee will have so-called ballot buddies calling voters known to be in favor of the levies and reminding them to mail in their ballots. The committee also plans three mailings and some computerized phone calling. Rosss daughter Hannah will voice the message on the automated calls.
The committee has about $3,000 to spend on the campaign so far. Ross said they would like to raise about $2,000 more, partly to leave some money in the bank for any future needs. To contact the committee, call Ross at 360-654-6204 or Kiefer at 360-654-0508.

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