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North Kitsap schools to ask voters to continue levy support

POULSBO — Next week, the North Kitsap School District will ask voters to continue to support school programs and staff with their tax dollars.

On Jan. 21, voters will receive ballots for a special election asking them to approve or deny the renewal of a four-year school support and operations levy. If voters reject the levy, the district will be in dire straits.

“Levies were supposed to be used for extras, but the state doesn’t even fund the basics,” District Spokeswoman Chris Case said. “You hit a point where you can’t cut too much deeper than we already are without cutting teachers. And then it gets really ugly.”

Even if the levy passes, Case expects the district will need to make budget cuts this year.

The district currently uses levy money to fund about 20 percent of its budget. It hopes to maintain that funding over the next four years with an annual levy that will start at $13.2 million in 2011.

Based on assessed property value within the district, property owners will pay about $1.96 per $1,000 of assessed property value if the levy is approved. The district expects the amount of money raised by the levy to increase to $15 million by 2014 as property values go up.

Current levy dollars pay for things like athletics, activities, transportation and instructional support. But the bulk, about 59 percent, pays for teachers and support staff.

If the levy is renewed, the district expects to use about 56 percent of the money to pay teachers, counselors, classroom aids and school office staff.

“We’re already stretched with our staff and all of our activities are dependent on the funding we’re getting,” Kingston High Drama teacher and parent Alison Roberts said. “We’re not really fully funded by the government.”

The next biggest chunk of the levy pie, about 17 percent, will pay for instructional support items like textbooks, software and other instructional materials.

“There are lots of things out there that the levy is needed for,” said Jerry Parrish, a longtime teacher and coach at North Kitsap High School and co-chair of a pro-levy group called North Kitsap Citizens for Quality Schools. “If we’re going to keep the quality of education that North Kitsap has had for the last 15-16 years, I think it’s important that we continue to do a good job.”

Voters approved a levy of $2.15 per $1,000 of assessed property value in 2006, but actual amounts collected ranged between $1.75 and $1.96 per $1,000 of assessed value. The rate collected in 2008-09 was $1.96 per $1,000 of assessed value.

North Kitsap parent Brian Arcement said he would not support the levy partially because he does not believe the school board has been fiscally responsible.

“We were promised that they were going to decrease student ratios in the classroom. None of that happened,” he said. “First and foremost, levies are not going to fix the current funding issues the district faces.”

He said real change needs to come from the state level.

Case said voting against the levy would be counterproductive and end up costing the district extra money. If the levy fails on its first try, the district will run another election in April, costing about $50,000.

“It’s tough this year, because of the economy,” Roberts said. “But we’re hoping to continue to get the support from the voters.”

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