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District puts levy renewal on February ballot

The Bainbridge Island School Board voted last week to put a four-year Program and Operations Levy on the Feb. 9 ballot. The district’s current levy, which was put to voters in 2007, will expire at the end of 2010.

Like the current levy, the district will ask for the maximum amount allowable, which is 24.98 percent of state and federal allocations.

Levy funds, which make up 21 percent of the district’s operating budget, have become even more important with a $2.6 billion shortfall in the upcoming state budget.

“We estimate that gap for us this coming year – based on a number of variables – could be $1.8 million,” Supt. Faith Chapel said.

While the district’s shortfall is only a preliminary estimate, the district has cut nine percent – $3.6 million – of its $36.5 million budget in the last two years.

The currently levy provides funding for 21 percent of day-to-day operating funds, 10 percent of certificated positions and 46 percent of classified staff.

Of the school district’s 2009-2010 budget, 64 percent came from state funds.

“(The levy) bridges that gap between the funding that we get from the state and the small amount from federal,” Chapel said.

Of the school district’s general fund, 86 percent of expenditures are on staff salaries and benefits.

With the replacement levy, $8.3 million will be levied in 2011, $8.5 million in 2012, $8.7 million in 2013 and $8.9 million in 2014.

The estimated levy rate for 2011 will be $1.33 per thousand dollars of assessed value, and $1.34 per thousand dollars for the following three years.

“The strategic financial goal is to keep taxes stable,” Chapel said.

The levy comes on the heels of the November approval of a $42 million bond to replace Wilkes Elementary School and for capital improvements.

“It’s certainly is unfortunate that these are coming so close together,” Chapel said. “The maximum length we can ask for is four years. The way the law is also written – if the levy automatically expires – it must be presented to voters.”

The district plans to distribute information regarding the levy in the coming months.

“I think one of the key distinctions for some of our citizens is about the difference between capital funds and the general fund in the school districts,” Chapel said. “By law, there are specific purposes for each of those pots of money.”

Both the bond and programs and operations levy help fill the shortcomings in state funding, Chapel said.

“In both the category of facilities and operations, the state does not provide us with the funding that would be needed to construct all of our schools or to replace our schools,” Chapel said. “It really falls on local communities to support construction and renovation.”

The North Kitsap, Central Kitsap and Bremerton school districts will also put Program and Operations levies to voters Feb. 9.

“I think it is fortunate because we can share some of the election costs,” Chapel said.

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