Two levies, one ballot: Kent School District runs M&O, technology levy elections for February

Editor's note: The following story is actually two stories: A separate account for each levy the Kent School District is putting before voters this month. Contact information, and where to get more information on the Web, also are included. Please read on.

Dennis Higgins

Dennis Higgins

Editor's note: The following story is actually two stories: A separate account for each levy the Kent School District is putting before voters this month. Contact information, and where to get more information on the Web, also are included. Please read on.

Kent's M&O levy: 20 percent of school district budget

Voters in the Kent School District are about to receive ballots in the mail asking them to approve the district’s 2010 maintenance and operations levy, which makes up approximately 20 percent of the district’s budget.

The Kent School Board in November approved the final levy numbers which, if approved, will collect $56 million in 2010 and increase by about $3 million per year, ending at $64 million in 2013.

The approximate levy rates for the proposed measure are: $3.16 per $1,000 assessed value in 2010, $3.28 per $1,000 in 2011, $3.30 per $1,000 in 2012 and $3.28 per $1,000 in 2013.

The district is stressing that the levy is a replacement of the one approved by voters in 2006 and does not include any new taxes.

“We’ve structured this to keep taxes even,” said Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Fred High. “This is not a new tax. We’re asking people to renew the support they’ve already provided.”

High said the levy amount and estimated tax rate is low in the first year because of low assessed valuation of the district, which High said is expected to begin to rise in 2012.

“We knew the community has economic issues,” High said. “We didn’t feel is was appropriate to seek an increase in taxes.”

In the Kent School District, levy funding makes up one-fifth of the district’s budget.

District officials said the levy makes up the shortfall between state funding and what is needed in the district.

“Our district has to pick up a lot of stuff not paid for by the state,” Communications Director Becky Hanks said.

According to the district, failure to pass the levy would affect transportation services, supplies, athletics, music and drama, safety officers and class size.

“One hundred percent of the funding for athletics and activities comes from levy support,” said Dave Lutes, director of district athletics and activities, adding that all coaches’ salaries and stipends are paid through the levy.

Levy funding also pays for approximately one in every five staff positions in the district, including teachers to reduce class size at the elementary school level.

“It affects every student in every classroom,” Hanks said.

Levy failure also would affect the teacher contract approved in September following the strike. Language in the contract makes some of the class-size provisions contingent on levy passage. Class size was one of the hot-button topics with Kent teachers last year, and was part of the reason why the teachers’ union went on strike this past fall.

State law stipulates that the district may only provide facts regarding the levy and not advocate for its passage, but a community group called Citizens For Kent Schools is promoting its passage.

Kent City Councilmember Dennis Higgins is the group’s chair and paints a dire picture of what could happen if the levy fails.

“Go into any building in the district and pick any five teachers and if this doesn’t pass, pick the one you want to get rid of,” he said. “I’m not willing to do that.”

Higgins said his group is calling community members from a phone bank two nights each week.

“They’re not asking for the moon here,” Higgins said. “These are basic services the school district provides.”

The levy requires a simple majority for passage and if it fails, the district will have one opportunity to run the propositions again before having to make cuts in the budget totally 20 percent.

“We depend on the levy to provide the current level of quality and service,” Superintendent Dr. Edward Lee Vargas said.

For more information on the levy, visit For more information on Citizens for Kent Schools and their efforts, visit To volunteer, call Dennis Higgins at 253-508-9999.

Technology levy: Would retain student programs

In addition to the maintenance and operation levy, the kent School District is running a second proposition on the Feb. 9 ballot asking voters to approve replacement funds for the district’s technology programs.

The tech levy is set at $5 million per year for four years and the district estimates it would carry a tax rate of between $0.26 and $0.28 per $1,000 assessed home value.

The money being requested by the district is the same amount voters approved in 2006 and the district emphasizes it is a replacement of the current levy and not a new tax.

According to Chief Information Officer Thuan Nguyen, the tech levy would pay to maintain what the district has done since the passage of the last levy and continue to pay for replacement machines to keep current the technology used by students.

“We’re not using the 2010 levy to add new initiatives,” Nguyen said. “We’re not in a position to ask more of the community.”

He also said that because of the continuing technological advancements being made, the district could find itself falling behind the curve if voters reject the levy.

“If this levy doesn’t pass for some reason it falls apart very quickly,” he said.

Teacher on Special Assignment Becky Keene is former classroom teacher who presently works in the district’s information technology department. According to Keene, the addition of the “multimedia bundles” to each classroom, which included the smartboards, documents projectors and teacher computers, changed what teachers do everyday.

“We see these as critical teaching and learning tools,” she said. “It’s now become basic tools.”

Keene also said the addition of technology to the classroom helps further engage the students in their learning process.

“That’s a resounding yes,” she said. “Kids will pay attention to digital ink more than a white board.”

Nguyen said the use of technology in the classroom better prepares students for when they see the same technology in the real world.

“By having access and having them use it, they become good digital citizens,” he said.

Superintendent Dr. Edward Lee Vargas said the technology levy, which also paid for the district’s one-to-one computer program to provide laptops to all middle school students in the district, is also an equity issue and provides the “same opportunities as every student.”

“We don’t want them to come to school and have to power down,” he said.

Dennis Higgins, chair of the Citizens for Kent Schools group that is promoting levy passage, said he has a six-year-old computer collecting dust in his garage because old computers are no longer relevant in the modern world.

“That’s what we’re talking about,” Higgins said. “When my kids are in school I want them to have the necessary tools to make them competitive.”

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