Levy campaign is warming up

Ballots are in the mail, and so are letters pro and con on the $8.9 million measure.

Bainbridge voters can expect to receive ballots for the May 17 technology levy any day now.

Sharing space in the mailbox will be separate letters from citizens urging fellow islanders to vote for, and against, the $8.9 million measure.

If approved, the technology levy will pay for new computers, software, interactive whiteboards, teacher training and wireless infrastructure throughout the Bainbridge Island School District, where the average computer is more than six years old, and much of the software is outdated.

As the campaign draws to a close, Bainbridge Island Public Schools Supporters have sent out two mailers – one set to arrive this weekend – and at least two more are in the works. Volunteers in the pro-levy group have made more than 2,000 phone calls, and they plan to have the phone lines buzzing in a get-out-the-vote campaign in coming weeks.

“Things are going very well,” said Clif McKenzie, who co-chairs the campaign with fellow parent and longtime schools volunteer Margaret Powers.

“We have a phenomenal group of volunteers,” McKenzie said. “What we truly hope, is that when people cast that vote, they cast an informed vote.”

To that end, McKenzie said his campaign is busy addressing a question that comes up over and over:

Why isn’t the money from the levy being used to lower class sizes?

“If we could lower class sizes with this levy, we would,” McKenzie said, reiterating that levies are allowed by the state as a mechanism to fund technology purchases and capital projects only. But that can indirectly benefit lower class sizes, he said, because computer purchases won’t have to come out of the general fund for instruction, as they do now.

The levy would cost the owner of a $400,000 house about $200 annually for four years. Levies and bonds are two ways that the Legislature allows school districts to raise funds for technology and capital projects, neither of which receive government funding earmarked for that purpose.

While the campaign has garnered support and endorsements from public officials, educators, teachers and parents, some island residents are mounting campaigns urging the levy’s defeat, saying it’s too expensive.

Thomas Hemphill, a 29-year island resident and father of five, is among those advocating a “no” vote in a letter mailed this week to 8,000 island households. The letter is co-signed by his wife Barbara and friends William and Belinda Jones.

“I just think that $8.9 million is way too high,” said Hemphill, who paid for the mailing out of his own pocket. “I think they can get by with half of that.

“And even if (the district) says they need all of that, I think they should be friendlier to the taxpayer and get some grants and private funding, like their consultant from the Vancouver (Wash.) School District suggested.”

Hemphill, who lives on a Pleasant Beach property originally purchased by his grandparents, said he is concerned about the rising cost of living on the island.

“Some people say, ‘come on Tom, it’s only $200 a year,’” he said. “But my property taxes are higher now than what I was making 25 years ago. It’s the cumulative effect of it.”

Also rallying against the levy is Fort Ward resident Jim Olsen, known for his adamant objections to the district’s curriculum on the internment of the island’s Japanese citizens during World War II.

The retired Coast Guard captain was banned from school property earlier this year, when officials feared he would disrupt the internment lessons at his daughter’s campus.

Olsen has formed “Citizens for Fiscal Accountability on BISD No. 303 $8.9 Tech Levy.”

“I see a real disrespect of the taxpayer,” Olsen said. “I have remained a customer, a parent, a taxpayer and a supporter of the educational system, not withstanding some difficulties and some disagreements. There are two words that come to mind here: accountability and responsiveness, and I maintain they were lacking then and they are lacking now, with this levy.”

This week he filed two complaints with the state Public Disclosure Commission in Olympia, alleging that the school district and the Bainbridge Island Public School Supporters have violated campaign rules.

Olsen alleges that a school district pamphlet mailed to households in the district in May was “an advocacy piece masquerading as an informational piece,” violating rules for public agencies.

Nonsense, said Bainbridge schools Superintendent Ken Crawford.

“We have a right to identify and state our needs, and to state what we anticipate to be the benefit,” Crawford said. “That’s not advocacy, that’s information. The brochure was developed and reviewed under PDC guidelines.”

Olsen’s complaint also alleges that the pro-levy group failed to file the required Public Disclosure Commission documents, and he has requested an investigation.

On the first point, he and the pro-levy group agree. McKenzie said that in the excitement to get the campaign going after months of delays, he forgot to file with the state, an oversight that he corrected within 24 hours of Olsen’s complaint.

“I’m going to call him today to personally apologize,” McKenzie said Friday. “It was a mistake and I accept full responsibility. Our name was clearly on on all the materials and no one was misled.

“We have been very clear about who we are, and we’re in good standing now.”

* * * * *

Levy facts

Passage of the $8.9 million technology levy will cost the owner of a $400,000 home about $200 annually for four years. The district’s next technology levy presentation for the public will be at 7 p.m. May 3 at the Bainbridge High School library. More information can be found at

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