"School levy defeat puts jobs, programs on the chopping block"

"Downcast South Kitsap School District officials are moving closer to laying off workers and cutting students' programs as a result of Tuesday's rejection by voters of a proposed maintenance and operations levy.The approximately $45 million measure went to its second straight defeat with a 55 percent yes vote. It garnered a 53 percent approval in February. School levies require a 60 percent majority for passage.The levy, which covers certain district costs above state funding, can't be resubmitted to voters until next year. In the interim, 23 teachers and 18 non-teaching employees could be laid off if tentative plans are carried out. Also on the budget chopping block are classroom materials and extracurricular programs.The district's Budget Advisory Committee--including citizens appointed by each School Board member--was to meet Thursday night in the latest of its weekly budget reviews at the district headquarters. The committee will make budget-cutting recommendations to superintendent Bill Lahmann, who could pass them along to the board at its meeting Monday.At the least, the board will likely authorize layoff notices being sent to employees, officials said. Faced with job losses and program cutbacks, the mood among school personnel was rather funereal the morning after Tuesday's levy failure, said district spokeswoman Patty Holmgren.The School Board's president, Doug Bear, said making budget cuts will be difficult, particularly because there isn't enough money in reserve to absorb the impact.We're talking about transportation, extracurriculars--it will be a challenge, Bear said.He said the budget committee will probably meet once or twice before making recommendations that ultimately will require board action.The district's current maintenance and operations levy will expire in December. The proposed new levy, which would have started next January if it had passed Tuesday, is for four years and would generate $10.7 million at a rate of $3.46 per $1,000 of assessed valuation in its first year of property assessments. That amount would be about 17 percent of the district's budget for the 2000-01 school year, when combined with state levy equalization funds that are available only if a levy is in place.The new levy is encountering the same pattern of voter opposition as the current levy, which passed in 1998 only after being denied twice in a row. Then and now, the defeats were apparently tied to taxpayers' resentment of local tax burdens for public education and suspicion of the district's spending. The latter sentiment includes questions about how money is used and whether some expenditures are necessary.District officials and school supporters have said there is no fat in the district budget.As for overcoming voter disenchantment, levy backers are mystified. Citizens for Quality Education, the pro-levy citizens' group, contacted 12,000 registered voters by telephone, doorbelling and mail.I know I received three pieces of literature at my house in support of the levy, Bear said. I don't know what else could have been done.Before the current levy passed on its third attempt, parents of South Kitsap students, concerned about the effect of budget cuts on their education, looked into transferring their children to other school districts or private schools. I imagine that will happen again, Bear said."

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