Sixteen school districts in King and Snohomish counties will have levy or bond measures on the Feb. 9 special election ballot.
Seattle voters will decide in the Feb. 9 special election whether to approve two levies totaling more than $1 billion that would, in part, fix some of Seattle Public Schools’ aging buildings, pay a portion of teachers’ salaries and open more schools to accommodate the thousands of students who have joined the district since 2010.
One is a three-year, $758.3 million operations levy, a replacement for a long string of measures that cover roughly a quarter of the district’s yearly budget and help pay for everything from teacher salaries to student activities. The other is a $475.3 million capital levy that’s about $200 million more than the one it’s replacing, and will help ease the overcrowding that has plagued the district for the past seven years.
Nearly $88 million of the capital measure would go toward renovating and opening three elementary buildings — E.C. Hughes, Magnolia and Webster — and to build an addition at Ingraham High School.
Magnolia has been empty for more than a decade, while E.C. Hughes housed the private Westside School in West Seattle, and Webster in Ballard has been the site of the Nordic Heritage Museum.
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The levy also includes $15 million to buy additional property, although the district says it has no specific plans for what it might buy, and when. The district tried to buy the former Federal Reserve Building in Seattle last year, but lost its bid in February. The winning bid for the vacant downtown building, which the district hoped to use to education a growing number of students in that neighborhood, was $16 million. District officials haven’t ruled out purchasing another property downtown, but aren’t eyeing any particular site at this point.
“Property doesn’t stay available for long and if we had to wait for three years until our next levy, there is a good chance that opportunity would most likely be gone,” said Flip Herndon, associate superintendent of facilities and operations.
The buildings part of the levy funding, if approved, would also go toward several renovation and improvement projects, including $13 million for earthquake safety improvements and $17 for roof replacements and upgrades at six schools. About 60 percent of the district’s buildings are more than 50 years old, Herndon said.
The district also seeks $104.7 million for technology, including $30 million for school and instruction support and $29.3 million to student learning. Another $6.3 million would help “communication transparency and outreach.” The academics/athletics piece is $35.2 million, with $13.6 million going toward athletic field improvements and exterior lights.
If approved, the capital levy would replace a $270 million measure, which was approved in 2010 and expires this year.
If both measures are approved, the owner of a Seattle home with an assessed value of $450,000 would pay $1,145-$1,172 in local property taxes each year for the next three years. For 2017, that’s an increase of about $140 per year.
If the Legislature had already fully funded education, as required by the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, then Seattle wouldn’t have to ask voters for so much, district officials said.
Seven other King County school districts also have measures on next month’s ballot.
Tukwila has three separate ballot measures: a $49.8 million programs and operations levy, a $99.16 million building bond and a $3.59 technology levy.
Mercer Island and Renton have two measures each. Mercer Island is asking voters to renew a capital projects and technology levy to raise $38.4 million over six years and a $750,000 transportation levy to replace aging school buses. Renton’s $160 million operations levy renews the district’s four-year levy and its $155.5 million capital levy would build a new elementary school and renovate existing buildings.
Federal Way is seeking the renewal of a $26.4 million technology levy over six years, Auburn’s operations levy is $177 million over four years, and Fife’s technology is $7.35 million over six years. Vashon Island is asking voters to approve a $26.9 million bond to build a new high school gym and track and improve school buildings. The bond is the only measure, save for Seattle’s, that has had any opposition. Opponents say the track and field is unnecessary and the increased taxes would make housing unaffordable.
In Snohomish County, seven school districts also have measures on the ballot. Arlington will ask voters to approve a $3 million, two-year levy to purchase new school buses, which failed last year. Edmonds’ technology levy would raise $59 million over four years, and Mukilteo’s operations levy is $20 million over six years.
To pass, levies require a simple majority. Bonds must receive at least 60 percent approval and a minimum turnout of 40 percent of voters from the last general election.