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Two school levies on one ballot

By ELIZABETH CIEPIELA

Staff writer

After studying the proposals, the Federal Way School Board has voted to place both a replacement four-year education and operations (EP&O) levy and a new six-year technology levy on the same Feb. 3 ballot next year.

Federal Way Public Schools’ chief financial officer, Sally McLean, said the extension of the replacement EP&O levy’s lifespan from two to four years will save the district at least $125,000 in election costs.

She added that voter approval of the EP&O will assure district funding for educational programs, including the school transition plans and Closing the Gap.

McLean also suggested the reinstatement of a textbook adoption cycle funded by the EP&O levy. She outlined a rough plan for math, science and social studies text replacement cycles.

Board members Bob Millen, Ed Barney and Don Putman supported putting the two levies on the February ballot without reservation. But member Earl VanDorien repeated his concerns about the tech levy’s sustainability within six years, questioned voter support, and again expressed concern that not all school buildings are open for students after hours for use of computers.

But in the end, he hesitantly approved placing both levies on the ballot. He added, “The state has failed us in their paramount duty of education.”

Board member Charles Hoff was out of town during the Tuesday’s board meeting so he could not vote, but he issued a written statement encouraging fellow members to support both levies.

Before the vote, Audrey Germanis, a former board member and levy co-chairwoman for Citizens for Federal Way Public Schools, told the board, “Today technology is a basic skill, and students are at a disadvantage if they’re not trained and comfortable with the use of computers.”

This isn’t the first time two levies have appeared on the same school ballot in the Federal Way district. King County auditor documents for the district’s levy history reveal that the last time was in March 1991. Both were defeated.

The measures in 1991 included a bus transportation proposition and a general obligation bonds proposition. The bonds proposition did carry later that same year on a separate ballot.

Although board members have determined both levies next February are necessary for sustaining education, voter support is hard to predict.

The same auditor document shows that voters have approved five of the seven maintenance and operations levies in Federal Way since 1992.

Teri Hickel, president of Citizens of Federal Way Schools, said she anticipates voter support for both levies in February.

Germanis agreed. She said the levies have “an excellent chance of passing because the school district doesn’t run anything unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

She said the levies are “such an imperative part of the school system. With reduced funding from the state, it’s an integral part of the budget.”

In her final levies presentation to the board, McLean said the district receives the least amount of levy dollars per student among King County districts and districts statewide that serve 20,000 or more students. This latter demographic includes the Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane, Kent, Lake Washington, Evergreen, Edmonds and Vancouver school districts.

“Federal Way voters have been very supportive of our levies over the past two decades, in part because the district has shown itself to be a good steward of public money,” said district spokeswoman Deb Stenberg. “In light of recent state budget cuts, we need our community’s support now more than ever.”

Staff writer Elizabeth Ciepiela: 925-5565, eciepiela@fedwaymirror.com

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