PORT ANGELES — Under non-COVID-19 circumstances, the Port Angeles School District would have let voters know before September that a $5.6 million annual replacement maintenance and operations levy measure is on the Nov. 3 general election ballot, schools Superintendent Martin Brewer said last week.
On July 23, the school board approved going to voters with the four-year measure — also called an educational programs and operations levy — that will go into effect with 2022 tax collections, opting for a less expensive November election than February 2021, when fewer tax districts will split the cost.
The levy rate would stay at the current $1.50 per $1,000 of valuation to continue paying for music education, athletics, special education services and student support services such as nurses and counselors, all expenditures not covered by state funding.
The $5.6 million includes levy equalization money that goes to districts with lower property taxes than the state average, Brewer said.
Ballots go out to 22,100 district voters Oct. 14, in little more than four weeks. A simple majority is required for passage.
“We are taking the approach that this is very much routine,” Brewer said.
“It does exactly what we promised it would do, stay at a flat rate of $1.50 [per $1,000 of valuation].”
The district posted levy information on the district’s website (https://tinyurl.com/PDN- DistrictLevy) on Friday following an inquiry from Peninsula Daily News. Brewer had said Thursday it would have been posted by this week.
“Now we’re working on getting materials out to voters,” he said Friday.
Voters will receive a district-sponsored information mailer about a week before ballots begin arriving in mailboxes on Oct. 16.
“This is an abnormal year,” Brewer said.
“Typically, we try to get things out a couple of months prior to an election.
“We’ve been working really hard to reopen schools and build the virtual platform in order to reopen schools.”
Brewer said the district will stay on a virtual-learning-only regimen for most students until Clallam County coronavirus cases stay in the moderate range of 25-75 cases per 100,000 population for 28 straight days — and with the direction of county Health Officer Dr. Allison Unthank.
The district would start with a limited hybrid model that had been planned before cases spiked in Clallam County, forcing the closure of facilities.
Despite school buildings being off-limits to most students, instruction continues, Brewer said.
Special-education students started returning Thursday to district facilities, he said.
Teachers are instructing students online.
And the district’s much-valued music program continues with online instruction.
“The biggest component of the levy is music education, and that does continue,” Brewer said.
“We’re still working on giving students an opportunity to participate in a performance, although it would be virtual.”
According to a school district pie-chart, music, nurses, counselors, mental health support and a school navigator account for 49 percent of levy funding; and athletics and extracurricular activities, 30 percent.
Staff needs “outside of the prototypical models for tech, maintenance, etc.” account for 30 percent; special education, including staff support and other needs 5.6 percent; and technology hardware for a replacement budget for Chromebooks and other technology, 3.5 percent.
While football and other fall sports activities are dormant for fans, coaches are continuing to work with student athletes as they did in the summer, with plans underway for conducting four seasons of sports crammed into January-June.
The budget for athletics is $1.1 million for the school year out of local levy dollars, and that’s staying intact, Brewer said.
Nurses and counselors continue to be available to students and parents, Brewer added.
“In the end, taxpayers are getting what they voted on four years ago,” he said.
“I’m not saying that the virtual [model] is superior or inferior to the brick-and-mortar, in-person schooling.
“I don’t disagree, in-person is desirable, that’s what we strive for.
“The costs associated with in-person or virtual still exists.”
The district still employs 500 teachers and other staff, deciding on a case-by-case basis if openings are posted.
“The virtual experience is not cheaper than brick and mortar,” Brewer said.
“It’s actually more expensive.”
For example, the district purchased 3,100 chrome books before the pandemic, then bought 900 to cover all students in a $225,000 expenditure approved earlier this summer.
They were supposed to arrive at the end of September.
“Now we’re hearing the end of October,” Brewer said.
“We are really learning the value of school and this is learning a lot about ourselves.
“At the end of this, with all the change that we will be really looking at our delivery model.
“On the back end, it’s really going to pay off for us.”
Steve Methner, whose wife, Sarah, is on the school board, is an organizer with Port Angeles Citizens for Education, a citizens advocacy group for school district funding measures.
Methner said last week the group has not been active in pushing for passage of the levy.
“They tend to cycle every four years,” he said.
“PACE hasn’t done anything to bang the drum for this one, either.”
District expenditures are at or higher than under non-COVID-19 conditions “because of all the retooling they have to do,” Methner said.
“It’s such a politically volatile environment right now, adding more to eh noise doesn’t seem like it would be super helpful for anybody right now,” he added.
“People just have to make their decision about it as a normal replacement of what’s expiring.
“It’s not a new tax. It’s not a new rate. It’s not a new increase.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].