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Bainbridge School District considers levy lid lift

With its operating budget plagued by state funding cuts over the last three years, the Bainbridge Island School District board of directors discussed at its meeting last week recent legislation that would allow the district to levy additional funds.

SB 2893 allows school districts with levy lids more than 24 percent – such as Bainbridge – to increase their levy requests by 4 percent for 2011-2017.

“It’s consistent with what we’re seeing as a message that the state has a strategic direction of shoving funding for schools back down to the local level,” Board President Patty Fielding said.

“You either garner local support to fill the gap or you can continue to operate with a gap that gets bigger every year.”

The levy lift would increase the district’s four-year maintenance and operations levy, which funds teachers and maintains class size, by an additional $620,000 in 2011 and $200,000 in 2012 for a total of $820,000. The levy, which was renewed by voters in February, currently allows $8.3 million to be levied in 2011, $8.5 million in 2012, $8.7 million in 2013 and $8.9 million in 2014.

“One of the assumptions of course is to continue to keep taxes stable,” Supt. Faith Chapel said. “It certainly is possible to make a request to reflect these additional dollars without increasing taxes.”

The levy lift will not impact the 2010-2011 budget, Chapel said.

The district has cut nearly 13 percent of its operating budget over the last three years, and will lose its federal fiscal stimulus and stabilization dollars in August 2011, Chapel said.

The additional funds would help preserve educational programs, maintain class size and retain staff.

The district also discussed the impact that the lid increase would have on its four-year $6.1 million capital levy for technology, which will expire at the end of the year.

The technology levy has funded various improvements from library computers to wireless capability in all buildings. Many of the items will need to be replaced, Chapel said.

Chapel presented three options for the board to consider regarding both levies. Each would keep taxes stable, Chapel said.

The first option would put the $6.1 million technology levy to voters on the November ballot and keep the operations levy at its current level.

With the second option, the district would request the levy lift while decreasing the technology levy by $820,000. The technology levy request would decrease to $5.2 million, for a combined total of $6.1 million from 2011-2014.

The third option would put the levy lid increase to voters in November, with the technology levy renewal pushed to a later date.

With the goal of maintaining the quality of classroom instruction, many teachers have expressed support for option two, Chapel said.

“Everyone who has worked on the District Budget Advisory Committee knows how agonizing the process has been to go through and make the reductions that we have,” she said, “and that $600,000 is a significant amount of money.”

The board agreed that if option two is chosen, the two levies must be clearly communicated to the community.

“The big challenge will be that we have a real energy in the district to help with whatever communication is necessary to help people feel good about voting for these two measures,” Fielding said. “[Even] if we weren’t for option two, we are concerned too about the message and communication for tech levy. Now we’re adding on something that’s incredibly complex.”

In order to put measures on the November ballot, the district must notify the county by Aug. 10. The board would likely sign a resolution at the July 29 meeting.

The district can use its two meetings June 9 and June 23 for further discussion and public comment.

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