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Overwhelming support for school bond, tech levy -- UPDATED

Bainbridge voters overwhelming approved $51.1 million in spending for public schools Tuesday.

Unofficial final returns Tuesday evening showed a $45 million construction bond earning 70 percent support, while a $6.1 million technology levy was passing at 65 percent.

Turnout was 53 percent through early returns in the all-mail voting, about 8,200 ballots counted on an island with 15,642 registered voters.

The results thrilled levy supporters, still smarting a bit from their first-ever levy defeat just a year ago.

"We thought we had the support, and it was just a matter of whether our supporters turned out," said Clif McKenzie, who co-chaired the "Yes for Schools" campaigns. "And boy, have they ever."

Backers were cautiously optimistic about the school construction bond, the first floated by the Bainbridge Island School District in nearly a decade. Money will go to expand an overcrowded Bainbridge High School, and fund roof and heating system repairs to aging buildings district-wide.

The technology levy was another matter, as a larger measure earned just 43 percent at the polls last May. The school board responded to that defeat by slashing the levy amount by a third, paring out items perceived to be extravagant.

The "Yes for Schools" campaign also used an extensive phone bank system to rally support, with some 260 volunteers making an estimated 20,000 calls to island households since January.

School board member Bruce Weiland called the results "a great day for Bainbridge, because we reaffirmed our commitment to kids and education."

Preparation for the school construction bond included an extensive master planning process that outlined capital needs on district campuses for the next 15 years. The district also named two citizen advisory committees to work with school officials in designing facilities and purchasing equipment for classrooms.

Those moves, Weiland said, showed the district's commitment to working "in a transparent and accessible way."

School officials hope to break ground on a new high school wing -- to include a library, commons area and cafeteria, plus a dozen or so classrooms -- sometime in 2007, while new computers and related equipment will be phased into the schools over the four-year duration of the tech levy.

"I think we've got our work cut out for us, but it's going to be a fabulous process," Weiland.

The campaign differed from a year ago in that there was little visible opposition. Several critics of the previous tech levy didn't weigh in on the issue, and actually supported the construction bond.

The only tangible opposition came from local conservative activist Jim Olsen, who placed signs reading "Excessive" and "No No No" at various roadsides.

In a statement issued Tuesday evening, Olsen faulted the local media for failing to give the spending measures due diligence.

"What I found troubling in this particular special election was the mind-numbing public relations barrage received from the BISD #303 authorities," Olsen said. "While vigorous competition of ideas is healthy, this clearly one-sided casting of the argument from the...Bainbridge Review and other sources did not benefit the public awareness and civic goals. It is imperative writers and editorialists be wary of a conscious or unconscious circling-the-wagons mentality and false-shaping opinion without any semblance of critical analysis of hyped assertions made by the BISD #303 administration."

He went on: "As a consolation I offer the words of Abraham Lincoln about the ultimate folly of manipulation: “You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.” We will remain vigilant against expected further attempts to be fiscally irresponsible and the voters will again be given the responsibility of voting for fair and truly justified education expenditures."

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