Levies to fund basic services in a handful of King County school districts were faring well in early returns, but measures aimed at building renovation and construction appeared headed for failure.

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Voters appeared to be sending a clear message to King County school districts Tuesday night in early returns of a special election: They’re OK with continuing to support basic school services, but they still don’t think it’s time to splurge on major construction.

With thousands of votes tallied, residents in Auburn, Federal Way and Renton were approving the renewal of property taxes to fund operations levies. But they were rejecting measures aimed at building maintenance, renovation and construction projects in each district.

Levies in Tukwila and Vashon Island were also winning approval.

Ballots from about a quarter of registered voters were counted in each district, but that tally probably represents at least half the total votes in the all-mail election, as many resident likely didn’t vote.

Final results won’t be certified until Feb. 28.

In early returns, a two-year, $106 million operations-levy renewal in Federal Way was earning 56.2 percent of the vote — more than the majority required for approval. But only 44.9 percent of voters had supported a six-year, $60 million capital levy to mostly fund a major renovation of the aging Federal Way High School.

Similarly, 56.9 percent of Auburn votes counted were in support of a four-year, $146.4 million operations-levy renewal, but just 53.8 percent of voters had given the OK for a $110 million bond measure to mostly pay for modernizing Auburn High School. Bond measures require 60 percent for approval.

In Renton, a four-year, $163 million operations-levy renewal was receiving 60.1 percent of the vote and a four-year, $21 million renewal levy for technology was earning 59 percent. But just 56.6 percent of early voters had approved a $97 million bond measure to mostly fund the construction of a new middle school in the northern part of the district.

Two smaller measures — a four-year, $41.4 million operations-levy renewal in Tukwila and a four-year, $3.6 million capital-levy renewal in Vashon Island — were each passing with more than 65 percent approval.

The mixed results were frustrating to school-district officials, several of whom had been optimistic about the chances of construction measures that had been narrowly rejected in recent elections. The results may have reflected the still-struggling economy.

“We’re pleased that our community showed their support for our current level of funding that is essential to continue our level of program services,” Federal Way Public Schools Superintendent Robert Neu wrote in a statement. “At the same time, we’re disappointed for Federal Way High School students and staff that we might not be able to move forward on a new school that they deserve.”

If the measures fail, school districts are allowed to ask voters for the funds again after a couple of months, but the districts would have to pay to mail the ballots.

The election is the first since the state Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature is violating the state constitution by forcing school districts to rely on levies for a large percentage of their funding.

But despite the ruling, levy amounts in this election were as high as ever, and some officials said they were asking for more from voters on the assumption legislators would continue to cut the education budget.

Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or brosenthal@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @brianrosenthal.