Voters were showing their support for most area school districts, with partial returns from Tuesday's special election favoring passage of billions of dollars in levy and bond measures to operate, maintain and build schools.

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Voters were showing their support for most area school districts, with partial returns from Tuesday’s special election favoring passage of billions of dollars in levy and bond measures to operate, maintain and build schools.

According to unofficial results released shortly after 8 p.m., ballot measures in 20 of 23 King and Snohomish County school districts were winning approval, although some by very narrow margins. Measures for Seattle schools were in especially good shape.

The released results in most of the districts reflected ballot return rates of between 25 and 30 percent of those mailed. King County officials, by comparison, were expecting a final return rate of 35 percent.

An important $234 million bond measure in Lake Washington School District looked unlikely to pass, as just 53.5 percent of counted ballots were for approval. Bond issues need 60 percent of votes to pass.

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The bond issue would address overcrowding by converting the district’s high schools from three-year schools to four-year schools and doing other school renovation.

“It looks like our voters are saying this is not the time,” given the recession, said Kathryn Reith, district spokeswoman.

Another bond issue, in Marysville School District, was failing, with just 51.7 percent approval of the counted ballots. That measure would give the district $78 million to replace and renovate two elementary schools and a middle school.

The other failing measure, for a capital levy in Federal Way School District, had just 49.7 percent approval in counted ballots. Levies require a simple majority to pass.

Operations levies fund about 20 percent of the general-fund budgets of school districts while capital levies pay for building maintenance and technology upgrades. Bond measures generally finance new construction and major renovations.

King County elections officials plan to release updated vote tallies at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday and most other weekdays through Feb. 24, when final results are to be available. Snohomish County updates are to be posted at 5 p.m. on those days.

Seattle Public Schools was in the best shape of any district in the area. The district’s $442.7 million, three-year operations levy was being approved by 71.8 percent of voters and the district’s $270 million, six-year capital levy by 71.4 percent.

“That’s a fantastic result,” said Sharon Rodgers, a board member of Schools First, the campaign committee for the levies. “It looks extremely optimistic. It looks like Seattle voters have done it again and supported our kids and our schools.”

The closest measures were a pair of bond issues. In Northshore School District, a $149 million bond-issue request to add a major new building to Woodinville High School and continue major renovation at Kenmore Junior High was being approved on 60.8 percent of counted ballots. In Shoreline School District, a $150 million bond issue to modernize both of its high schools was also passing by 60.8 percent.

Northshore Superintendent Larry Francois said the district’s bond measure “has got a really strong chance.”

Other measures that were passing by very narrow margins included an $11 million capital levy in Tahoma School District, with 51.6 percent approval in counted ballots and a $241.6 million operations levy in Kent School District, with 52.6 percent approval.

Although levies usually have a high success rate, school officials were nervous in the days and weeks before the election, given the grim economy. This election was unusual in other ways, too — for many districts, it was the first all-mail election and the first time levies have needed only a simple majority for passage.

The types of measures varied by district, as will their impact on taxpayers. Generally, levies and bond issues would affect property-tax bills by between $1 and $4 per $1,000 of assessed value.

In King County, that amounts to between $375 and $1,500 for a $375,000 home, the median price of single-family homes sold in the county last month. Because nearly all of the measures call for renewing expiring levies, they would continue existing taxes rather than instate new ones.

North of Seattle, a $175.75 million, four-year operations levy for the Edmonds School District had 65.0 percent approval while the Everett School District’s $169.5 million, four-year operations levy was being approved by 62.6 percent and its $48 million, six-year capital levy by 63.6 percent.

To the south, early returns were mostly favorable to Tukwila School District, the only district in the area without a previous levy or bond issue in place for technology project. Some 53.2 percent were for approval of the district’s $6.285 million, six-year capital levy, which mostly would go toward new computers and higher-speed Internet access.

Kent School District’s $20 million capital levy was being approved by 52 percent of counted ballots.

On the east side, voters in Bellevue School District were saying yes to a $191.8 million, four-year operations levy with 66 percent of counted ballots and a $74 million, five-year capital levy with 61.4 percent.

Along with their bond measures, Lake Washington School District and Northshore School District also had operations and capital levies on the ballot and those were passing comfortably.

School boards of districts with failing levies can ask voters to approve the measures again as soon as April. But second tries are costly for districts because the state does not pay the costs such as printing and mailing ballots as it does in regular elections.

Officials said an operation levy’s ultimate failure could trigger deep cuts, likely resulting in such things as teacher layoffs, scrapped arts programs and elimination of programs such as full-day kindergarten.

Capital-levy failures are setbacks for maintenance and technology projects.

Other area ballot measures appeared to be headed toward approval. They included districts in Issaquah, Riverview, Fife, Lake Stevens, Mercer Island, Mukilteo, Snoqualmie Valley, Tahoma, Enumclaw, Snohomish, Sultan and Vashon Island, and the Bainbridge Island School District in Kitsap County.

Tuesday’s special election included some 254 measures — most of them school levy or bond measures — in 37 counties, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

Brian Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or

Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or

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