School tech levy back: $6.1 million on ballot in early '06

The four-year levy will be decided with a 20-year bond for school construction.

With old computers not getting any younger, the school board voted Thursday to put a four-year, $6.1 million technology levy before voters in early 2006.

The decision drew a round of applause in the high school library gallery from a large contingent of teachers who turned out to pledge their support.

“This time around, the staff knows exactly what we want,” said high school language arts teacher David Layton, representing the teachers union. “Can we live with less? We can, but it would be a lost opportunity.”

The levy represents a scaled-down version of an $8.9 million plan that failed at the polls earlier this year. It would replace an estimated 1,150 outdated computers in local public schools over a four-year period, and purchase printers and related equipment.

Teachers’ computers would be replaced with laptops, and every classroom would see a new projection system to put lessons and tests before students.

The equipment would support rollout of the new science curriculum district wide, put all school libraries on a central computer system, and offer support for special-needs students. Buildings would see the introduction of wireless technology for computer connectivity.

Shorn from the plan, though, were student laptops and multimedia and video conferencing equipment, which provoked controversy with the failed levy.

“We took the message from the voters very seriously,” board member Bruce Weiland said. “Our original proposal was for the deep integration of technology into the curriculum. Instead, we’re going to go with a scaled-down version, which we think is critical.”

School officials said the new plan still advances educational goals beyond just replacing current classroom computers, 80 percent of which are said to be outdated and below present standards for instruction.

“Teachers have felt an awful lot of pain at the beginning of this year,” said Randy Orwin, the district technology director. “It’s been really ugly. The systems we have just flat out cannot process the software we’re using.”

Several teachers who now have advanced technology in their classroom praised its effectiveness in engaging students in daily lessons. Sakai math and language arts teacher Tim Harris told the board that a projection system had “transformed” his instruction, and led to higher quality work by students.

The show of staff support Thursday earned the thanks of board members, several of whom said teachers did not seem particularly supportive of the previous levy.

Layton said there was a perception among teachers at that time that school officials were “trapped” by fear of opposition by anti-tax voters, rather than focused on an educational vision for schools. Teachers also felt left out of the earlier bond planning.

“It wasn’t that we did a bad job,” Layton said. “There were people who set out for personal reasons (to oppose the levy), and they didn’t care what we asked for. I’m truly sorry they had so much sway in this community.”

Schools Superintendent Ken Crawford conceded that the previous levy proposal was predicated “on a culture that no longer exists on Bainbridge Island,” alluding to the district’s decades of easy success at the polls with levies and bonds.

“We cannot campaign on just getting out the ‘yes’ vote,” agreed Dave Pollock, school board president. “Everybody gets a ballot. We need 100 percent of the staff and the board working together on this. Every one of us knows how vitally important this is.”

The levy won’t be the only school funding measure to go before voters next year. Also Thursday, the board honed plans for a construction bond to upgrade and replace aging buildings.

The board is considering four bond packages, ranging from $46.49 million to $100.79 million over 20 years.

At the low end, a construction bond would add classroom space to relieve overcrowding at Bainbridge High School, and address health and safety issues in buildings district wide.

More ambitious packages could replace 51-year-old Wilkes Elementary School; modernize or replace other buildings at the high school, including the theater; and replace boilers and roofs at various school buildings and bring them up to seismic code.

The district is completing a 15-year master plan to address campus needs across the island, and the school board is expected to set the final bond amount at its Oct. 27 meeting.

If the bond is approved by voters next spring, construction of new high school buildings is expected to begin in 2007.

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Bond planning

The school board is expected to determine the amount of the upcoming facilities bond at its next meeting, 7 p.m. Oct. 27 at the Bainbridge High School library. Bond planning information is online at

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