Island to vote on renewal of levies

They’re stripped-down laptops designed for the internet.

And students at Woodward Middle School and Commodore Options School have had the high tech devices — Chromebooks — since last fall. School district officials say the laptops have not only helped kids learn outside the classroom, but stay connected with teachers and other students whether they’re sitting in class or not.

Thank the Bainbridge Island School District’s technology levy that was passed in 2014.

“The learning is happening in lots of different environments other than just the formal 50 minutes in front of the teacher,” said Bainbridge Island School District Superintendent Peter Bang-Knudsen.

“My son was actually working on a Google slides presentation and he had three of his buddies and they were all working from home, just chatting with each other as they were developing this shared presentation that they’re going to give in class the next day. That is pretty slick,” Bang-Knudsen said.

The laptops were purchased with funds that came from the tech levy budget. Now, the school district is asking voters to renew that levy — as well as one that will pay for daily operations, including teachers’ salaries and educational programs — with two ballot measures on the Feb. 14 Special Election ballot.

District officials and school supporters stress the ballot propositions are not new taxes, but extensions of existing levies that are crucial for the district’s budget given that the state does not fully fund basic education.

Proposition 1 is the educational programs and operations levy, which pays for teachers, instructional support, transportation, school supplies, extracurricular activities and more. The $10.4 million levy, if approved by voters, would cost property owners $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value in 2018, rising to $1.54 in 2021.

For the owner of a $535,555 home (the median value on Bainbridge), the levy will cost $803 in its first year.

Proposition 2 , for school technology, is a $2.2 million proposal that is also a four-year levy.

The tech levy would gather 32 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

School supporters say both measures, if approved, would increase Bainbridge school taxes by about $13 a month.

Officials said the levies are vital because not only does the state not fully fund basic education, it also provides no money for technology improvements in Washington schools.

And while lawmakers in Olympia continue to try to come up with a compromise to increase funding for schools in response to the Washington Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary decision — which ordered the state of Washington to fully fund basic education — local officials said that until the state fully funds K-12 education, local levies are needed to bridge the budget gap.

In order to fill the gap left by state funding, local communities have been contributing to school budgets through levies. This year, only about 68 percent of the operational budget for Bainbridge schools came from state funds. Local levies covered about 23 percent of Bainbridge Island School District’s operational budget while the remaining 9 percent of the budget came from federal funds and local non-taxed fundraising activities.

Bang-Knudsen noted that during his recent three-month, 30-stop listening tour, he heard from students, teachers, parents and community members who shared praise for Bainbridge’s educational programs and technology.

Putting technology such as Chromebooks in the hands of younger students has helped. Bang-Knudsen said this new, open-ended approach to education is taking student learning to a new level.

“Kids are pursuing their own interests, they’re pursuing things that sparked their interest in class and they’re becoming engaged with that. So it’s expanding their educational opportunities in ways that I don’t think we had even anticipated fully,” Bang-Knudsen said.

When asked to paint a picture of what the district would be without the funding from the levies, Bang-Knudsen doesn’t sugarcoat it.

“Essentially take a quarter off of everything,” he said.

“That clearly would mean teacher layoffs, that would mean classified layoffs, that would mean squeezing our already crowded buses, that would mean impact perhaps on our sports and extracurricular activity programs, that would mean lowering the temperature in an already cold school, it would be all of those things. It would be very impactful,” he said.