Port Angeles City Council supports school levy

Opponents say alternatives should also be explored

PORT ANGELES — A unanimous City Council has voted to support the Port Angeles School District’s proposed capital levy.

The council voted 6-0 Tuesday to pass a resolution in support of Proposition No. 1.

The measure, which will appear before voters in a Feb. 11 special election, would fund an expansion and remodel of Stevens Middle School and re-establish a sixth- through eighth-grade middle school system.

It would begin a 30-year plan to upgrade aging facilities at Franklin, Hamilton and Roosevelt elementary schools and Port Angeles High School.

“We must invest in our children’s future,” Council member Cherie Kidd said at the council meeting.

“Our children’s future is everyone’s future. Our children’s future is the future of our city.”

Proposition 1 would raise the school district’s local levy rate by $2.62 per $1,000 of assessed valuation and result in a $4.12 total levy. It would generate an estimated $52.6 million over five years, district officials said in an information sheet at www.port angelesschools.org.

Citizens for Affordable Schools, which opposes the levy, has a website at www.stoppaschooltax.com.

If approved, the total levy rate for the school district would be “significantly lower” than two previous funding proposals that failed in 2014 and 2018, district officials said.

Seven speakers testified in support of the levy proposal in a special public comment period Tuesday.

No speakers testified against the levy.

“We did get some emails from people that expressed an interest in speaking against it,” Council member Mike French said during the 5 1/2 hour meeting.

“I think it’s a shame that they didn’t show up to do so, because in my mind I believe in the Socratic method. I think to get the best results, your ideas have to face criticism.”

Dan Shotthafer of the anti-levy Citizens for Affordable Schools, said he left the council meeting before the public comment period on the levy proposal.

“I had other meetings I had to go to and I couldn’t wait any longer,” Shotthafer said in a Friday interview.

Shotthafer said he received no response to his request to make a formal presentation to council opposing the levy. District officials gave a detailed overview the levy at the Nov. 19 council meeting.

“I asked for equal time at that time,” Shotthafer said.

State law allows a city council to endorse a ballot measure as long as the vote takes place in public, that the agenda includes the number of the ballot proposition and the public is afforded an “approximate equal opportunity for the expression of an opposing view,” City Manager Nathan West said in a memo to the council.

The agenda item was posted as Port Angeles School District Proposition 1 Resolution for and against.

“Look, I’m not sure anybody wants to pay for this, but what is the other option?” City Council member Michael Merideth said.

“There aren’t really any other options.”

Merideth, a Port Angeles native who has children in the school system, said the district’s facilities have not been improved since he was a student.

“We’re all going to have to pitch in to get these schools updated,” Merideth said.

“It’s an investment in our town, not just our schools.”

Longtime Port Angeles math teacher John Henry said the high school, which was built in 1953, is “pretty inadequate” for the 21st century.

“The heater is so loud that I have to turn it off to teach because otherwise the students can’t hear me,” Henry said.

“Within 10 minutes, my room is cold because there’s no insulation.”

Henry said the current state of the district facilities is a “disservice to our kids.”

“I think this town is worth investing in,” Henry said.

“We need to start now so that we have a viable town 30 years from now.”

Levy supporter Steve Methner said the district’s plan “puts our town on a 30-year cycle of continuous school renewal.”

“It’s the kind of thinking that goes well beyond ourselves, well beyond our generation, well beyond our current officials and administrators,” Methner said.

“It’s how we should be thinking as Americans, not just of ourselves and our current state of need but of the kids and the families who haven’t even been born yet.”

Jim Haguewood, Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce president, said the chamber board voted unanimously in November to support the district’s capital facilities plan and ballot measure.

Haguewood said the long-term plan improves community safety, is up for renewal every five to six years, establishes property tax predictability and achieves operational efficiencies.

“The Port Angeles school plan provides a long-term solution for upgrades and replacements of aging buildings with 1960 construction standards,” Haguewood said.

“The chamber sees good academic programs in modern facilities as a reflection of our community values and priorities.”

Levy alternatives

Dan Shotthafer and his wife, former Port Angeles school board member Susan Shotthafer, said there are alternatives to the levy.

Susan Shotthafer said the district “failed to look at modular home building construction for schools, which would save 35 percent on school buildings.”

Dan Shotthafer said the “extremely expensive” levy would saddle citizens whose average annual salary is well below the state average.

“The tax increase and the effect it has on the community is going to be enormous,” Dan Shotthafer said.

“The actual increase is probably the largest tax increase that the school district has placed before the people, and maybe the largest tax increase in the history of Clallam County.”

The school district’s 2018 levy proposal, which failed to gain a simple majority by 115 votes, would have resulted in a $5.48 total levy, which is $1.36 more than the current proposal.

Plans would increase classroom space for elementary schools, the district has said.

Dan Shotthafer said the district does not need more space because it has seen declining enrollments in recent years.

“Their whole premise is based on moving all the sixth graders into Stevens and making that a much larger middle school,” Dan Shotthafer said.

“The idea of needing space in the elementary schools doesn’t make any sense.”

Dan Shotthafer suggested that the district renovate the existing middle school with new heat and electrical systems rather than demolish the current buildings.

“We see that the schools need work, but you can also see that (district officials) are not taking care of them like they should be,” Dan Shotthafer said.

Deputy Mayor Kate Dexter, who also has children in the district, said the existing facilities do not match the quality of education provided in Port Angeles.

Council member Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin questioned the accuracy of certain facts presented by Citizens for Affordable Schools.

“On the very first page, I found what I believe to be misinformation about the tax rate for utilities in the city of Port Angeles,” said Schromen-Wawrin, who participated in the council meeting by phone.

”Based on my knowledge as a council member, if that’s off, I wonder how much other misinformation is on that page.”

Schromen-Wawrin added that the levy proposal is an “excellent plan.”

“I’ll pipe in saying that I believe that yes, this is our responsibility,” Mayor Sissi Bruch said.

“I think that the schools were well taken care of a long time ago and then we stopped. For some reason we stopped, and now we are way behind.

“I know we need to begin somewhere,” Bruch added. “This is a great beginning.”

________

Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].

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