It’s Special Election Day in King County, and according to the election office only 27.4 percent of the ballots dispersed countywide have been returned. For Seattle residents, two of the most talked-about items on the docket this year are the Capital and Operations levies for Seattle Public Schools (Propositions 1 and 2 on the ballot). Together the levies would secure $712.7 million for area schools, funding proponents say SPS needs for renovation projects, maintenance work, academic programs and technology, to name a few. Seattle usually votes in support of school levies. However, this year opponents say the cost of the levies is too high and the economy is too unstable to make these levies a viable use of funds.
If you still need to fill out your ballot, here’s a little background on both sides of the levies debate.
Supporters, including non-profit Schools First, which has been campaigning to raise awareness of the levies and earn votes, say the levies are critical to sustaining current academic programs for schools across the district, as well as many necessary maintenance projects for schools in buildings that are run down and on the wait list for a remodel. Currently levy funding makes up 23 percent of Seattle Public Schools operations budget and 100 percent of the capital improvements budget.
According to Sharon Rodgers, spokesperson for Schools First Seattle, the two levies would fund “literally hundreds of projects” throughout the district – everything from energy efficiency upgrades, to maintenance maintenance projects and teacher support. She said that in the past the levies have been spent for additional programs such as after school activities and student organizations, however, due to district-wide budget cuts, the money now goes almost entirely to necessities, such as books and funding a 6th period class for high school students.
When asked what would happen if the levies weren’t to pass, she said this: “I can’t even imagine what would happen…The district would have to make very, very tough decisions–drastic cuts. Imagine having to cut a quarter of the operating budget of the city schools. Especially given the tough economic times, I don’t know what the budget will look like for schools coming down from the state, but we anticipate that there will be cuts. So to have cuts due to not passing the levy on top of cuts from the state, it really would be devastating to the school system. The last time we lost an operating levy was back in the 1970s, and the people who were in the school system at that time tell me it was really devastating and that it was really hard for the students.”
Proponents, however, have taken a hard stand against the levies, arguing that the Capital levy “does not address the maintenance issue in any significant way,” and will cost taxpayers “more later” because many of the school buildings are over 50 years old and are currently not being properly maintained by the district. The statement against Prop 1 in the voter’s handbooks reads: “Giving the district more money while they are not maintaining our buildings only enables bad practices. Demand accountability of our tax dollars and proper upkeep for our school buildings.”
Regarding the Operations levy, they call the Prop 2 an “especially harmful governmental action,” saying that the district’s new Student Assignment Plan will “take away school choice, split communities, and segregate schools.” Supporters of the levies argue that the continued support for a quarter of the district’s current operations budget would strengthen neighborhood schools.
Check the election site for more information on Prop 1 and Prop 2. Read up on the other ballot measures for today’s election here. Special election ballots must be postmarked or dropped off at one of the two remaining drop boxes today, Tuesday, February 9, in order to count. Ballots can be dropped off until 8 p.m. at either the King County Administration Building (500 Fourth Ave. in downtown Seattle), at King County Elections Headquarters (9010 East Marginal Way S. in Tukwila), or at one of the county’s three accessible voting centers, including one at Seattle’s Union Station 401 S. Jackson St. If you can’t make it to a drop box, the Queen Anne Post Office, located at 415 1st Ave N, is open until 6 p.m.