School levy earns whopping 78 percent support

Island voters Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a $24 million levy to fund school operations for the next four years.

The resounding 78 percent “Yes” vote bettered the 72 percent support for the previous levy three years ago.

“I couldn’t be more pleased,” said Ken Crawford, superintendent of Bainbridge schools. “Considering the economic circumstances, the community really stepped up. I couldn’t ask for more than that.”

As an “excess” levy, the issue needed a 60 percent nod to pass; most expected it to be approved, as Bainbridge voters have not defeated a school operations levy since the early 1970s.

Still, Crawford told the school board last month that he hoped to see support in the 80 percent range to signify the community’s commitment to public instruction.

Tuesday’s high returns brought smiles to the faces of district employees.

“I think that something like this provides a real sense of affirmation,” Crawford said. “People feel appreciated, and I think spirits are lifted because of that.”

Cheryl Dale, school board president, credited the work of Clif McKenzie and Margaret Powers, who co-chaired the levy campaign.

“We are so excited,” Dale said. “I heard last night that we had 1,000 new voters (over the previous levy)...which says a lot about the people who put this levy campaign together. They perfected it.”

The levy replaces a three-year levy that expires this year. It will bring in $5.7 million in 2004, increasing each year and reaching $6.6 million in 2007.

The district operates on about $27 million annually; the local levy this year supplemented funding of about $20.5 million from state, federal and other sources.

Levy funds will cover teacher and staff salaries, training and curriculum work, building and grounds maintenance, and transportation.

But as budgeting for the next school year gets under way, Crawford sounded a cautionary note. With state facing a budget crisis, the Bainbridge district will lose $500,000 or more in state funds, making cutbacks almost inevitable.

To that extent, he said, the local levy dollars will have to supplant rather than supplement state funding.

“The manner with which we made ourselves available and communicated with the public is something I want to maintain,” Crawford said. “We still have a lot of critical issues before us.”

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