From left, Jim Bell, Nathan Adkisson, Jodi Minker and others celebrate as Superintendent Gary Neal announces the approval of both levies Tuesday night. (Erin Hawkins/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

Sequim School District heartened by passage of levies

Sequim schools are feeling the love post-Valentine’s Day.

Voters in the Sequim School District approved two district levy proposals — a four-year educational programs and operation replacement levy and a three-year capital projects levy — in a special election Tuesday.

The first count of ballots Tuesday showed the replacement levy passed with 65.54 percent of ballots cast (7,342 votes in favor compared to 3,860 against), while the capital projects levy earned 66.76 percent approval (7,479 yes votes to 3,723 no votes).

“[I’m] just very excited for our students more than anybody,” Sequim School Board President Robin Henrikson said, and “grateful that our community came together to support this. It’s not just about schools; it’s about our entire community. I’m really relieved and excited.”

The educational programs and operation (EP&O) levy replaces the district’s four-year levy, which expires at the end of 2017.

It runs from 2018-21 and generates $26.5 million to pay for more teachers to reduce class sizes.

It will also pay for programs such as Highly Capable and Advanced Placement courses, curriculum, books and technology, overall district maintenance and activities such as sports and after-school clubs.

The capital projects levy will generate about $5.75 million over three years and pay to demolish an unused portion of Sequim Community School and expand and renovate the central kitchen facility in the same building.

“It’s very exciting that our community is going to trust us with these projects and get things started, and hopefully it’s the beginning of several other good things that can come from that,” Sequim Schools Superintendent Gary Neal said.

The unused portion of the community school — built in 1949 and shuttered in 2012 because it was found to be unsafe for students — would give the school district access to $4.3 million in state matching funds for new construction.

Combined, the two levies will cost taxpayers $1.68 per $1,000 assessed home valuation in 2018, $1.90 in 2019, $2.36 in 2020 and $1.57 in 2021.

The Sequim School District’s board of directors had sent four bond proposals to voters since April 2014, and all had failed. Unlike bonds that are used for new construction and require at least 60 percent voter approval, both the EP&O levy and capital projects levy require at least 50 percent voter approval to pass.

On Tuesday night, Neal and Henrikson and other Sequim school supporters saw the community back two levy plans.

“I think in general that people who didn’t support [the previous bond] this time felt we listened to what they wanted and acted on that, as well as what’s best for our students,” Henrikson said.

“The fact that we threw two levies out at the same time gives us confidence, because the last time we did that in 2013, the community supported that,” Neal said. “You just never know [about the election results]; you never know what people are thinking, you never know how well you get the message out and how clear it is and what people’s interpretations are.”

The next step in the capital projects levy, Neal said, is finding a project planner.

“One step at a time. We’ll get a capital projects manager hired. They’re the experts in the construction component, and kind of oversee and make sure they’re following plans,” Neal said.

“We’re just getting into the depth of what our community is feeling and how they would go about this,” Neal said. “Now we’re excited to continue on this endeavor with them because we’re developing partnerships — and we definitely need the community to be involved with us on the way.”

More ballots received in the mail and taken from drop boxes will be counted Friday in each county — by 4:30 p.m. in Clallam County and around noon in Jefferson County.

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The Olympic Peninsula News Group is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum.

 

Robin Henrikson, Sequim School District board president, smiles as she holds her daughter after the announcement of the approval of both levies. (Erin Hawkins/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

Sequim School District Superintendent Gary Neal hugs Jodi Minker of Citizens for Sequim Schools after the announcement of both levies having passed. (Erin Hawkins/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

Sequim School District Superintendent Gary Neal discusses his thoughts after the approval of both levies with KSQM’s Ed Evans. (Erin Hawkins/Olympic Peninsula News Group)