By Pat Jenkins
The Eatonville and Bethel school districts are in the stretch run of voting that will determine the fate of levies that supporters say are crucial to basic school needs and the education of students.
The special election ends Feb. 11, the last day that ballots can be turned in. At stake is roughly one-quarter of the budgets for each district, plus funding for a proposed expansion of technology for Bethel students to use in learning.
Eatonville’s four-year Educational Programs and Operations Levy calls for collecting between $4.5 million and just under $5 million from 2015 to 2018.
In the Bethel district, the four-year School Programs and Operations Levy would collect between $40 million and $45 million per year from 2015 to 2018. The School Technology Levy is for $4.5 million a year for four years beginning in 2015.
Levies pass or fail with a simple majority – anything over 50 percent of the total votes.
Here are some of the basics about the ballot measures, plus some of the how-to for turning in ballots:
Local levy dollars pay for programs and services that state funding doesn’t cover. For Eatonville, that includes:
• Teachers to keep preferred class sizes.
• Instructional assistants who work one-on-one or in small groups with students and supervise playgrounds.
• Bus transportation for students to and from school, including routes where district officials say it’s unsafe to walk.
• Challenging academics for students, such as gifted education and advanced placement.
• Special-education, remediation, and English as a Second Language.
• Books, other learning materials, software and technology used by students in school.
• Training for teachers to keep their skills and knowledge updated, and time for them to prepare classroom lessons.
• Coaching and supervision for extracurricular activities, including music, sports, clubs and drama.
• Maintaining and operating school facilities, including heat and lights for schools.
The replacement levy would provide about 24 percent of the district’s operating budget. The estimated tax rate of $3.87 per $1,000 of assessed property valuation would remain the same over the four-year life of the levy. The district anticipates collecting $4.5 million in 2015, $4.6 million in 2016, $4.8 million in 2017 and $4.9 million in 2018.
The School Programs and Operations Levy will, if it passes, help pay for about 25 percent of the district’s day-to-day costs. Those costs, which aren’t funded by the state, include teachers, curriculum and classroom support, bus transportation for students, extracurricular activities (sports and arts), campus security, school librarians, nurses and counselors, building maintenance and groundskeeping, and all-day kindergarten and other instructional programs.
The four-year proposal would replace the previous levy by collecting between $40 million and $45 million per year from 2015 to 2018.
The School Technology Levy would enable the district to assign a laptop or some version of tablet computer to each student for instructional uses and enhance their use of technology in preparation for higher education and jobs.
District officials say the technology funding would only be used for buying and supporting technology equipment. That would include the hiring of an estimated 10 new employees, half of them teachers, for additional workloads that would come with the expanded presence of technology districtwide.
Ballots for the election were mailed to voters Jan. 24 by the Pierce County elections department. To be included in the outcomes, ballots must be postmarked by Feb. 11 if returned by mail. Official dropboxes provided by the county can accept ballots until 8 p.m. Feb. 11. The locations of drop boxes closest to the south area of the county include:
• Barney’s Corner, at State Route 161 and Eatonville Cutoff Road.
• The public transit park-and-ride lot at the Roy Y area of State Routes 7 and 507.
• Pierce County Library System’s South Hill branch at 15420 Meridian E.
County-operated voting centers, where voters in regularly scheduled elections can cast ballots on election day, won’t be open for this special election. That includes the one at the county maintenance facility in Spanaway.
The elections department can be contacted at 253-798-7430.
Through last Friday, slightly less than a week into voting, about 7 percent of the 56,514 registered voters in the Bethel district had cast their ballots; in the Eatonville district, ballots had been returned by about 8.5 percent of the 7,503 registered voters there.
Early, incomplete results of the election will become available from the elections department at piercecountyelections.org at approximately 8:15 p.m. The Dispatch will report them at dispatchnews.com and in the following week’s print edition. The Feb. 12 print edition will have gone to press before results become known.
Bethel and Eatonville are among 14 school districts in Pierce County with levies for their respective voters.