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Lakewood schools hoping voters OK levies

MARYSVILLE The mailings have gone out and the phone calls are underway, said Tina Ross, one of two co-chairs of a committee working for the passage of a pair of ballot issues benefiting the Lakewood School District.
In Ross mind, the phone calls may prove key. The committee plans to have so-called ballot buddies calling voters known to be in favor of the issues and urging them to return their marked ballots.
Ross added a reminder to voters that they may participate in local elections without taking part in the states presidential primaries.
Thats definitely one of the things were trying to educate people about, said Lakewood School District Superintendent Larry Francois
Francois said no voter has told him personally they would not be voting on the levies to avoid voting in a primary. But Francois said there is no doubt the issue is a topic of conversation.
By the way, the issue is the requirement that in order to vote in a primary, a voter must declare a party affiliation. That thought doesnt sit well with voters who consider themselves independent and who wish to remain that way. But again, Francois emphasized voters dont need to chose a party to vote on local issues.
You dont have to declare yourself a Republican or a Democrat, he said. Just turn your ballot over and vote on the school issues.
In this case, the school issues are a replacement program and operations levy and a smaller technology levy. In the past, while talking in favor of both issues, Francois has called the operating levy by far the more important of the two. The issue would extend a levy passed by voters in 2004 and slated for expiration at the end of this year.
According to Francois, the expiring levy generates about 17 percent of the districts operating budget.
Theres no way we could absorb that kind of hit, Francois said, predicting budget cuts of $3 million to $4 million are inevitable if the renewal fails.
If approved, 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.
In terms of cost, for each $1,000 in property value, property owners would pay an additional $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.
According to Francois, the operating levy funds about what you might expect it to fund, namely the day-to-day expenses of the district. Francois added the current levy brings in dollars equal to every cost incurred by the district outside of employee salaries, paying for everything from buses to classroom supplies.
According to both Francois and Ross, the technology levy would allow the district to greatly improve its educational tools.
People hear technology and they think of computers in the classroom, but theres more to it than that, Ross has said.
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.
According to district information, the 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 the district, the technology issue would raise about $800,000 next year with collections increasing approximately $100,000 each year over the life of the levy.
Should the upcoming operating levy not pass voter muster, Francois believes the district would have no choice but to try again later this year. The school board of directors would have the final say on returning to voters.
Ballots already should have arrived in the mailboxes of most registered voters. Returned ballots must be postmarked by Feb. 19 in order to be counted.
For Lakewood voters who dont want to mail their ballots, they may drop them off instead at either of two collection points: the Starbucks coffee house, 3701 88th St. NE and the Staples store, 105 Fourth St.

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