Latest loss has levy backers reeling

"Supporters of South Kitsap School District's proposed maintenance and operations levy were stunned by the measure's defeat in Tuesday's election.We're reeling, said Cheryl Bond, president of South Kitsap Education Association, the teachers union. It's discouraging and exhausting.Chris Lemke, president of Citizens for Quality Education, said he was shocked that encouraging feedback the group got from voters before the election translated into a loss.I wish all the positive voters had voted, he said.About 53 percent of the votes favored the levy, far below the 60 percent required for it to pass. The School Board will meet next Monday at 5 p.m. at the school district headquarters to discuss plans for a second election, probably in May.Counting Tuesday's defeat, four of the last five levy attempts have failed. The current two-year levy was rejected three times before finally passing in April 1998. It will expire next year.To replace it, the district proposed a four-year, $44 million levy that would generate property tax revenue for classrooms, instructional materials, maintenance of school buildings, an inter-school computer network and a new districtwide telephone system.The money would be about 20 percent of the school's budget, Lemke said. He added, If people are willing to give kids an 80 percent education, that's what they're doing by voting no.Lemke and Bond had no ready explanations for the levy defeat.In polling and the dialogues we had with people, we thought it would pass, Bond said.That outlook was shared at the district headquarters, where the mood was glum after the levy went down.Tradition may have played a role in the setback. Except for one four-year period, levies have never passed consecutively, according to Lemke. A school district official said that pattern dates back at least 28 years.In an informal sampling of citizens' opinions, the latest defeat was attributed to resentment of the district's policies and property taxes in general.Never have I lived in a place where the schools are supported by levies, said Wayne David, a military retiree and property owner in Olalla. Every time I turn around, Kitsap County votes for tax increases. They are taxing us to death.Mary Howes of Port Orchard said the levy failed because it was for four years instead of two. Voters want shorter levy periods so they have a say every two years, she observed.Howes also claimed the district needs to prove that the money is going for children's education.If the proposed new levy fails again on its second try, the district will face layoffs of employees and cuts of interscholastic sports and other after-school programs for students. Some of those same cuts were made two years ago before the current levy passed.Bond said the teachers union would be involved in negotiations of teacher layoffs.The levy woes affect our schools' staffs and students, she said. Teacher training, which would be funded under the new levy, is needed to help the district move forward with new state education standards, she added.Sunshine Meacham, a South Kitsap High School student, was dismayed by the levy's rejection.There are too many unconcerned people. The levy is for our education, and we're the future, she said.Cindy Bilyeu said she's one adult who does care.Even though my husband and I don't understand where all the money goes, we know how important it is for the children's education, Bilyeu said. A lot (of apathy or opposition to the levy) has to do with the education level (of the citizenry). Most here are blue collar workers who don't see the extra need for education.Another high school student, Paul Carter, said the levy failed because of a lack of advertising.Lemke said Citizens for Quality Education will resume the positive but relatively low-key campaign it waged before Tuesday's vote.We need to keep the focus on the wonderful things our kids are doing in school and what they need, he said.One change for the next campaign, Lemke suggested, should come from the School Board.We need a loud, united voice from the board about what our schools need, he said.Board member Doug Bear said it's hard to say where you go from here. We got very little input from people opposed to the levy. But we need to find out what it will take to get this thing passed."

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