School levy a simple matter of practicality

Without a doubt the worst thing about school levies is the personal animosity they generate on the local level.

National — and recent statewide — elections have been known to stir the blood too, but when it comes to pitting neighbor against neighbor, brother against brother, friend against friend, there’s nothing quite like a good old-fashioned South Kitsap School District maintenance and operations levy.

As is typically the case, the current levy campaign on both sides has been long on appeals to emotion and name-calling but short on hard numbers and respect for opposing points of view.

If letters to the editor are any indication — and they’re not — people who oppose the levy are heartless, stingy child-haters, while those who support it are elitist, mush-headed spendthrifts.

The truth, of course, lies somewhere in between.

Rhetoric aside, it’s difficult to fault anyone — least of all a senior citizen on a fixed income — in what’s already one of the most heavily taxed states in the union for thinking twice about voluntarily agreeing to hand over any more of their hard-earned money whatever the reason.

There are already too many things we’re being taxed for without our blessing; it’s awfully tempting to say no to the few things over which we do have direct control when we get the chance. The local fire district has certainly found that to be true when the stakes involved are presumably life and death, so it should come as no surprise if the school district scrambles to secure funding for somewhat less compelling issues.

Meanwhile, the evidence suggests a healthy percentage of those who vote against levies regard them as a referendum on the state of education in general. And in that light, it’s certainly possible to argue that our children aren’t being educated up to the standards of other countries spending less — or, for that matter, up to the standards of this country just a few years ago — and that approving a levy amounts to an endorsement of mediocrity.

The problem is, the way school funding is currently structured in Washington state, witholding support for the levy simply doesn’t address any of those problems directly, which makes voting against it a futile gesture.

Combine the $53.6 million that would be generated through local property taxes over the next four years with an additional $9.2 million in state equalization funding and you still only account for 18 percent of the school district’s annual operating budget.

The overwhelming majority of school funding — as well as the agenda that accompanies it — comes directly from the state, while the levy is used for only the most fundamental expenses, like books and supplies, computers and tech support, bus service, building maintenance and other nuts-and-bolts items.

Failure to pass the levy isn’t going to bring about a much-needed rethinking of educational priorities. Rather, it will reduce or eliminate buses, make the classroom less secure and postpone or cancel needed maintenance on the school structures themselves.

Simply put, the school levy is about practical, rather than abstract philosophical, considerations, and to see the contest in any other terms is either wishful thinking or delusional, depending on your point of view.

The proposed levy isn’t a new tax, and the district isn’t really asking for more than it already has. It’s just the mechanism the district uses, for better or worse, to supplement the current level of state funding.

Whatever else the South Kitsap School District may be, it’s hard to see where it’s extravagant or wasteful in what it spends on basic necessities. Consequently, voting to pass a levy that does little more than maintain the status quo doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

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