Schools may try bond, tech levy in '04

Campuses and computers will be at issue in two local school funding measures next fall.

A technology levy and a capital facilities bond will go before voters in November 2004 – a change from a previous timeline that would have put the tech levy on the ballot next February, and the facilities bond the following year.

“We’re not too concerned with doing both at the time of the presidential elections,” schools Superintendent Ken Crawford said.

“More, the concern is not having tax-related measures come before the community for two years in a row. We didn’t want to separate the levy from the bond.”

The bond would pay for the Commodore building upgrade and improvements to other facilities, including the high school’s 100 and 200 buildings.

The bond amount will be determined after a facilities audit by an architectural/engineering firm to be named later this month.

While the board has not put a cap on the amount they may ask for, the measure will be conservative, school board president Cheryl Dale said, because shoring up existing buildings, rather than new construction, is the goal.

Areas needing repair, remodel or replacement within the next five years will be the first priority.

“We will learn what needs to be done to provide eight to 10 years of life,” Crawford agreed. “What we’d like to do is not return to voters with a bond measure for eight to 10 years.”

Voters passed the district’s last capital bond, at $26.8 million, in 1997 to fund the new high school gym and other improvements.

Concurrent with the study of facilities needs, a district-wide technology review will be conducted by district personnel.

“We realized that we need to give the same kind of intensive scrutiny on technical decisions as on facilities,” board member Bruce Weiland said, “and so Ken put them on parallel tracks.”

The last technology levy was passed in 1997 for $1.7 million dollars over two years for computers and other new equipment.

The upcoming measure is expected to cost islanders $4-5 million over a four-year period, and may include new curricula supported by equipment, and hiring and training of personnel.

“We haven’t had dollars available (for technology purchases) since 1999,” Crawford said. “What we have available in technology for our kids is increasingly outdated.

“Of the top-performing six school districts, we are the only one without current funds from a capital technology levy.”

A preliminary analysis of district needs showed five-year-old district computer servers with speeds four times slower than basic workstations.

Of the district’s 1,500 instructional and staff computers, nearly half are five years old or older.

Establishing replacement cycles and timelines for both technology classes and equipment is vital, schools’ information systems manager Randy Owrin said.

Owrin said the standard replacement cycle in most districts is four or five years.

Bond and levy will be studied through the winter by committees comprised of community members and school employees. Active participants from the last bond committee are being invited to come on board and community volunteers are sought.

“We are looking for people to be involved,” Dale said, “people with expertise or just an interest.”

The planning committees will tour other school districts’ classrooms and facilities, review the audit findings, and present options to the board in April 2004.

The board is slated to decide the project scope and bond amount by the end of May.

The technology levy may be folded into the bond, putting one measure on the ballot. That decision will not be made until the committees have finished their work next summer.

Crawford said the decisions made now will affect Bainbridge schools for years.

“We want to provide our students with those resources consistent with our high expectations for their achievement,” he said.

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