BI looking to renew 2 school levies

On the Feb. 9 ballot are two measures from the Bainbridge Island School District.

Both the Enrichment and Operations Levy and the Technology Levy expire this year. Voters should be receiving ballots around Jan. 22. The last time these levies ran the community supported them by more than 73 percent.

BISD superintendent Peter Bang-Knudsen said one reason for such great support is the outstanding reputation of the schools.

“They get an excellent return on investment,” he said.

Also, while many communities struggle to get support from retired folks because they no longer have kids in school, on BI most residents are highly educated and realize the importance of a quality education, he added.

Third, the district works hard in the community to explain the importance of levies, by talking to groups like Rotary — although this year of COVID-19 it’s been done through Zoom rather than in person.

In a message to the community, Bang-Knudsen says the state has increased funding in recent years, but still does not fully cover the costs.

Even if both measures pass, the district will need to reduce staff and programs due to declining enrollment caused by COVID-19. Both need 50 percent plus one approval to pass.

“Right sizing” is what Bang-Knudsen calls it. For example, if 60 students become 40, only two teachers are needed instead of three.

Bang-Knudsen said the district lost about 200 students this year, most because parents sent their children to an in-person school rather than online, which is what BISD has been doing so far this year. A high percentage have said they plan to come back once BISD returns to normal.

Business director Peggy Paige said the district already had planned to dip into reserves even before COVID-19. “We can’t keep doing that,” she said.

When the state started picking up more of the tab a few years ago do to the state Supreme Court McCleary decision, the state caps the district at $2,500 per student, which is less than what BI used to be able to get.

“That’s a big change for us,” she said.

The enrichment levy is expected to be about $10 million for 2022, with a projected enrollment of about 3,680 students.

The Tech Levy has been $2.2 million since 2014, but the district is seeking an increase of $300,000 to $2.5 million. The reasons: increased costs of goods and services; Staff wage and benefit increases; and a new hire to focus on instructional technology.

Bang-Knudsen said that a new position is needed to help teachers use the district’s technology to its full potential. With so many devices, the IT Department has less time to train and support teachers.

IT director Kiyomasa Toma said equipment can’t be bought and “just dropped on someone’s desk. Technology is constantly evolving” and teachers should be able to know best practices.

As for the levy itself, Toma wants to assure voters that equipment isn’t breaking down fast. Much of it has been around eight to 10 years.

“We need to renew and refresh,” he said. “Find that sweet spot.” He said they may not need the latest and greatest, but they do need to understand the lifespan for technology.

Both three-year levies increase slightly the following two years. The district used to have four-year levies, but changed to three to try to keep them as flat as possible and to be more flexible when the state makes funding changes.

The new combined ask is for $1.30 per $1,000 valuation.

Thanks to increased valuation on the island, however, overall tax rates for local schools actually only will go up from $2.61 in 2021 to $2.65 in 2022, in costs per $1,000. That’s $2,120 a year on an $800,000 home. That’s about $30 more than what the average homeowner pays now for local school taxes. Cost is $1.04 for the enrichment levy and 26 cents for the tech levy. Already approved are $1.09 for a bond levy and 26 cents for the capital levy. All costs are per $1,000 valuation of course.

To compare, that’s more than double what’s paid in North Kitsap, but about $800 less than what’s paid in Issaquah.

The enrichment levy pays for things such as: Teachers and support staff; Special Education, along with remedial reading and math programs, and paraeducators; Enrichment for students, such as art, music, STEM and electives; Instructional materials such as books, subscriptions and consumables; Extracurricular activities such as athletics and clubs; and Districtwide support for maintenance, custodial, student transportation and central office.

The tech levy pays for: Student devices used at home and school, such as Chromebooks; Classroom presentation equipment; Distance learning tech and services; Assistive tech for students; Operational tech, such as networking, data backup, etc.; Software for library services and supporting educational electronic content; Cyber-security and cyber-safety; and Tech professional development.

These levies pay for things state school taxes don’t. The state provides for 75 percent of the district’s more than $57.5 million general fund, while 18 percent is provided by local levies. The levies are renewals, not new taxes. The state provides no money for technology.

The district also uses these funds to provide 4.87 nurses, 3.85 psychologists, 11.1 counselors and one social worker. The state only funds .77 nurse, .32 psychologist, 7.85 counselor and .41 social worker.

Bang-Knudsen said, “Part of our core values is the emotional health of our kids.”

The tech levy also is important especially in this time of COVID-19 because so much learning is taking place in homes. It’s also important because employers and higher education expect students to be more tech savvy, and technology creates jobs that didn’t exist before.

If that levy fails, the tech funds needed would come from the general fund, meaning more staff and program cuts.

Also, the district notes that it spent $958,848 responding to the pandemic for things like cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment and staff. The previous levies paid for that so BISD was able to handle that situation better than most districts.

Paige said the district has saved some money by not being in session, but not as much as some might think. Some of those savings did go to help pay some COVID-19 expenses.

She said staff is still being paid. Food service is still providing services with on the go meals. Transportation is down, but could actually cost more once hybrid learning starts as there will be double the bus routes each day. The main bill that’s down is garbage. But when students return, electric could be higher as windows will have to be open for a full air exchange.

Because of the BISD history on levies, Bang-Knudsen is optimistic. But if it does fail they would try again in April.

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