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North Kitsap school levy now passing

POULSBO — The absentee voters who mailed their ballots at the last minute may have saved the North Kitsap School District levy.

The four-year levy, which will fund staff, technology, transportation, and dozens of other educational needs, had to receive a supermajority, 60 percent of the vote, in order to pass.

The “yes” votes on Tuesday night initially hovered around 57, then increased to 59.98 percent—still not enough to pass the levy. The initial low numbers made it a somber election night in the North Kitsap Education Association offices, where school board members and educators gathered to celebrate the levy’s passage. Counting of the bulk of the final absentee votes turned the tide Thursday, unofficially pushing the total over the necessary 60 percent.

“It’s a sunny day in Port Orchard,” said school board member Catherine Ahl, who travelled to the Kitsap County elections office to see what the second batch of votes had to say.

“This is exciting,” said board president Bethany McDonald. “We’re looking at so many ways to improve what we’re working on, and this allows us to do that.”

At press time, 10,750 votes had been counted, and 6,498 of them, 60.45 percent, had voted yes on the levy.

The difference between a win and a loss on the levy was about 45 votes.

There are some votes left to be counted. Some may trickle in from overseas, where absentee voters can vote if they postmarked their envelope by election day; other ballots have been collected, but will have to be inspected further due to irregularities (unmatching signatures, forgotten signatures, etc.).

But with the levy total now over 60 percent, it’s unlikely the tide will turn negative again.

While the levy now looks likely to pass, it didn’t mean there weren’t a few scary moments for local educators.

With the levy dangling by a few votes between Tuesday and Friday, educators were forced to contemplate a major bite in their budget at the same time that the state government was making its own cuts.

“If it fails altogether, it’s going to be tough,” said school board member Dick Endresen, who is now in his fourth term on the board and was there in 1998 when last levy passed by 11 votes. “This district has come a long way, and I’d hate to see us have to go backwards.”

While levies pay for a wide range of activity, transportation, and technology costs, the bulk of the levy’s funds go towards hiring school-district employees — everyone from office support staff to teachers.

Assistant superintendent Terry Heindl, who helps oversee the school district’s budget, said that more than 80 percent of levy funds go towards employees. If that money didn’t come through, Heindl said, the district would be forced to make some difficult cuts in staffing.

“People lose their jobs,” he said, “and students lose services.”

Heindl said that even running another levy in May would put the district in a squeeze, because state law says that all teachers have to be told if they’re going to be retained by May 15. Another levy election would take place in May, leaving the district unsure how much money it would or wouldn’t have available to pay for teachers.

“That puts us under pressure if we have to run another levy,” Heindl said.

Late-arriving absentee ballots have proved to be the difference in previous elections, including the 1998 levy election, where the levy passed by only 11 votes.

The election will be certified March 22. A recount could be triggered by the school district or an individual, but unlike candidate elections, a mandatory recount on a close race is not required.

While board members are thrilled that the measure seems to have passed, one aspect of the election remains disturbing: the low turnout.

With only slightly more than 10,000 votes total, Ahl said: “I’m still disappointed at the turnout ... I think the school district is moving along and doing a great job, and it’s a shame so few citizens care about voting and certifying it.”

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