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Federal Way school levies: Public discusses pros and cons

With the Feb. 14 special election fast approaching, the conversation continues over the pros and cons of the two levy measures for Federal Way Public Schools.

The Educational Programs and Operations (EPO) levy will continue what Federal Way taxpayers are already paying for the general operations of schools. The school district seeks a $53 million levy that will last two years. The current levy was approved three years ago and expires in 2012. About 80 percent of this levy money goes to basic education. The other levy is a six-year $60 million capital levy that will help rebuild Federal Way High School. Some of the money will be earmarked to help build play structures and play areas at 19 of the district’s elementary schools.

Steve Edmiston, a parent who has one child in the school district and another who graduated, supports the levies because of his own experiences in being in a school district where levy proposals failed.

“I went to Mt. Rainier High School in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. I lived through all of those levy failures. I’m here tonight as a product of public high school education, and with kids in public high school, to say I’m for the levy…I’ve been on the downside of that,” he said. “I still remember what we didn’t have as students in our public high school at that time.”

Edmiston said he’s encountered a discomforting train of through recently among some in the community regarding voting in the Feb. 14 election. Referencing a Jan. 23 open house meeting about the levies, he worries there is “a linkage between our hot button issue of Standards Based Education and whether or not we should vote yes or no in February on the levy. People are saying, ‘I’m not going to vote for the levy because I’m so mad about Standards Based Education. I’m going to send a message.’”

The concerned parent said he finds this disturbing, and likened it to an attitude of “I’m taking my ball and going home.” While advocacy for issues is something he feels is a positive, letting it affect a vote on such a crucial issue would be dangerous, he said.

“We can advocate for what we think the philosophy of education should be, we can advocate a curriculum, we can vote for or against board members. But the only people we’ll hurt if we vote no on this levy, is our students and our teachers.”

The all-volunteer group Citizens for Federal Way Schools is leading the public campaign in favor of both levies. Both levies have been endorsed by the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce and The Mirror’s editorial board.

Another group called Citizens for Better Federal Way Schools supports the EPO levy, but opposes the capital levy for rebuilding Federal Way High School. In an opposing statement for the special election voters pamphlet, the group calls for more public discussion and participation by principal employers in the region.

“There is no doubt that the current Federal Way High School is in need of replacement. Before committing ourselves to a $110 million capital expenditure, we believe that far more realistic planning is needed,” reads part of the opposing statement in the special election voters pamphlet. “School Management and Planning placed the median cost for comparable high schools nationwide to be around $45,000,000. FWPS cost analysis does not demonstrate that proper planning was implemented in preparing the Capital Levy request.”

Special election details

The Feb. 14 special election for both levy proposals will cost the school district about $200,000, according to the district. The special election is necessary because teachers must be notified by May 15 if they will have a contract for the next school year, and teachers’ salaries are wrapped up in the EPO levy, according to the district.

If Federal Way voters reject either levy, the district can present the proposals to voters on one more ballot in 2012, likely in April. Both proposals need a simple majority (50 percent plus one) to pass.

The ballots and voters pamphlets for the special election were mailed together on Jan. 25. Voting for the Feb. 14 special election will be done entirely by mail.

 

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