Federal Way schools, day center deserve community’s support

Feb. 13 levy passage will help sustain critical staff, programs.

  • Monday, January 22, 2018 1:28pm
  • Opinion

As the great Benjamin Franklin said, “an investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” That’s why Federal Way voters should support the educational programs and operations replacement levy — commonly called an EP&O levy — on the Feb. 13 special election ballot.

Didn’t the Federal Way community just approve a measure in the Nov. 7 general election? Yes. That, however, was a $450 million school facilities bond to expand, rebuild or upgrade eight Federal Way schools and Memorial Stadium and improve safety and security measures at all buildings in the district. It is important for residents to remember that bonds are for building and levies, like the Feb. 13 levy, are for learning.

If approved, the levy will continue to pay for critical positions and programs including classroom teachers, security officers, bus drivers, nurses, counselors, coaches, special education, after-school athletics, transportation fuel and more.

Federal Way voters are just paying off a $53 million levy, but the proposed four-year replacement levy is asking for $33 million instead. This EP&O levy is not new. It actually replaces an existing levy Federal Way school district residents have approved for the past 37 years. The rate amount that will be assessed, however, is less. This means taxpayers will continue to support their schools, but at a lower cost than they paid with the previous levy. Starting in 2019, the cost per taxpayer will drop from $3.58 per $1,000 of assessed property value to $1.50 per $1,000. The cost has been offset by an injection of state funding — thanks to the McCleary decision — worth about $38 million through 2021.

The additional state funding isn’t exactly a windfall, but it helps. If the levy passes, the Federal Way school district will retain, but not add, current programs and staffing levels. Failure of the levy would mean a 10 percent hit to the district’s budget or the equivalent of 300 full-time employees, educational programs and activities, according to officials.

Quality schools are crucial to a community’s quality of life, regardless of whether you have children in school. All school districts have their flaws and shortcomings, but, in the long run, a healthier school district benefits families and the local economy.

Voters should feel confident that Federal Way schools are moving in a positive direction with Superintendent Tammy Campbell behind the wheel. The levy is a worthwhile investment in Federal Way’s future and that of its scholars. Vote yes Feb. 13.

• Kudos to the Federal Way Day Center as it celebrates one year of serving the local homeless community. The center provides a safe place for homeless men and women to shower, do their laundry, connect with social workers and services, hunt for a job and more. In 2017, the center served an average of 40 visitors a day or 1,031 total people.

There is no single solution for reducing homelessness, but the day center is a good start.

First the day center provides homeless people with one essential component when searching for a job: an address or P.O. Box necessary for job applications or for tax purposes.

Secondly, when people come into the day center, they can speak with social workers to determine what needs they may have, assistance for which they may be eligible, and/or connect with other agencies to receive help.

This is already paying dividends. Last year, 59 homeless residents found shelter and 35 found permanent housing through day center referrals and partnerships.

One effective approach to reducing homelessness is the “housing first” model, which focuses on getting the chronically homeless into housing as soon as possible, then connecting them with services later. This model has been applied with great success in Utah, for example, which made headlines in 2015 for reducing the number of chronically homeless people by 91 percent.

In fact, the “housing first” model and supportive housing in general are among the top strategies for ending chronic homelessness across the country, according to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.

Barring that, another idea worth considering is establishing a 24-hour day and night center — preferably attached to a permanent night shelter — so homeless residents have access to basic things people take for granted 24 hours a day, seven days a week. While a part-time day center open five days a week is a good start, it’s not enough.

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