School district still wants levy vote in February

The South Kitsap School District board decided not to deviate from recent history.

After its last two levies were passed, SKSD decided Wednesday night to again present a four-year plan to voters in February.

Levies can range from one to four years by state law, and Terri Patton, assistant superintendent for business and support services, recommended the highest number because she feels it provides stability and doesn’t inundate the public with ballot measures.

The board unanimously agreed with that sentiment.

In April, the Community Budget Review Committee prioritized issues from increased time for special education paraeducators to adding 20 full-time teachers from kindergarten through third grade to reduce class size.

CBRC wanted to maintain its core levy plan from the past and requested the district’s contingency increase from $150,000 to $500,000 a year. In addition, CBRC wants computers replaced throughout the district, replacement of the emergency radio system, upgrade to the Follet Library System and added video surveillance cameras and math and science coaches.

After meetings with district administrators, Patton developed a four-year design that would raise property taxpayers’ current contribution from $1.90 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to $2.23 in 2010, followed by a one cent increase two years later.

She said the increase is necessary because unforeseen issues when the last proposal was drafted in 2004 have made the levy unaffordable.

Factors include increased fuel prices and employer-paid state pensions, inflation rising higher than 3 percent, property values in Kitsap County exceeding the state average and the “credit crisis.”

Property values are used to determine how much the state provides in equalization funds.

The new rate would be higher than any local district for a maintenance and operations levy — Bremerton is at $2.22 this year.

Patton said the levy is “probably about 15 or 16 percent” of the district’s $97 million budget.

But the overall total is the lowest in the area because SKSD doesn’t have a bond (every other local district does), or a capital levy.

Besides SKSD, Peninsula had the lowest total at $2.11 per $1,000 of assessed property taxes, while both Bremerton ($3.19) and Central Kitsap ($3.12) exceeded $3.

The new levy would raise taxpayers’ contribution on a house assessed at $200,000 from $380 to $448 a year. Property assessments have decreased for many in the South Kitsap area, which could decrease taxpayers’ impact.

But board member Kathryn Simpson was concerned about the impact on households already dealing with inflation. Without being specific — other than saying she wasn’t referring to teachers — Simpson said staffing cuts should be considered to decrease the levy request.

Deputy superintendent Kurt Wagner said the district already is cutting staff for the upcoming school year. Board vice president Keith Garton said even a $1 million staff cut would only lower the levy to $2.10 per $1,000.

The board also examined whether it should split the levy into two proposals — one for facilities and the other for computers.

Teresa Osinski, a parent with two students in the district, spoke out against that proposal.

“Technology is as much a part of education as paper and pencils were when we were kids,” she said. “I would really urge you not to sell out by putting it on a separate levy. I think it sends the wrong message that technology is optional.”

A common refrain among the board members was that there will be some difficult decisions to make. Board president Patty Henderson noted that shortfalls in the last levy meant money that was earmarked for theater improvements couldn’t be used.

Patton called her proposal conservative because several previous levies have failed, the last one in 2000. But the budget also includes $1 million in equalization funds from the state.

The district received $1.5 million from the state this year. The board will examine the levy again at its Aug. 27 meeting, and Patton expects a decision in September.

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