PORT ANGELES — A unanimous Port Angeles City Council has endorsed a proposed school levy that would fund major renovations at Stevens Middle School, providing more space at each elementary school.
Council members voted 7-0 Tuesday to support Port Angeles School District Proposition 1 after hearing testimony for and against the $46.7 million measure that will be decided in a special election Feb. 13.
“There’s always a reason to say this isn’t the right time, but we do have to start building schools now,” said first-year council member Mike French, who made the motion declaring support for the levy.
“I really think that now is the time.”
The levy would add $2.47 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to property within the district. The owner of a $200,000 home would pay an additional $494 per year from 2019 through 2024 should the levy pass by simple majority.
The levy would add 14 classrooms at Stevens, including a new orchestra room and technical education classroom, cafeteria space, bathrooms and a bus drop-off lane.
The existing 1960 Stevens Middle School, which houses 557 seventh-grade and eighth-grade students, would be remodeled to help support an enrollment of up to 900, including all the sixth-graders in the district.
Moving sixth-graders back to the Stevens campus would free up space at each elementary school to help meet new minimum class size requirements for students in kindergarten through third-grade.
“We have to think of our children now and our future generations,” said Councilwoman Cherie Kidd, a Port Angeles native.
“It’s critical that we have good schools.”
Opponents of the measure said the levy puts an unnecessary tax burden on a citizenry already struggling to support the existing $3.20 per $1,000 valuation amount imposed by the district.
“This is a burden for many,” said Marolee Smith, one of five speakers to testify against the levy.
Dan Shotthafer of the anti-levy Citizens for Affordable Schools said the City Council should remain neutral on the tax proposal.
Shotthafer noted that the council was silent when the district tried to pass in 2015 a 25-year, $98.2 million bond that would have funded the replacement of Port Angeles High School.
Unlike the failed 2015 bond, the proposed levy requires a 50 percent plus-one-vote simple majority to pass.
In a Friday interview, Shotthafer said the council’s action “demonstrates a real lack of awareness of our economic reality.”
“I think it’s going to be hard on the citizens of Port Angeles,” he said of the levy.
At the meeting, Shotthafer urged the council and audience members to browse the Citizens for Affordable Schools website, www.stop75percenttax.com.
Pro-levy literature is available on the Port Angeles School District website, www.portangelesschools.org.
The three Clallam County commissioners took a position in support of the school district levy Dec. 19.
The levy also has been endorsed by Olympic Medical Center, the Port of Port Angeles and Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, schools Superintendent Marc Jackson said.
“It really says a lot about the City Council supporting us,” Jackson said in a Friday interview.
“I heard every one of the seven voices saying loud and clear that we really want to support public education and and we want to support our students.”
School District Director of Maintenance and Facilities Nolan Duce, longtime Stevens Middle School Principal Chuck Lisk and Jackson gave a slide presentation about the levy at the council meeting.
The $46.7 million amount would be matched with nearly $15 million in state funding, including $5.6 million that is tied to the demolition of Monroe Elementary School, they said.
After expanding and modernizing the middle school, district officials plan to rebuild Franklin Elementary in 2024 and Port Angeles High School and Hamilton Elementary in 2030.
“We’ve been at this long enough to know that we have to start somewhere,” Jackson said.
“We’ll take it in small steps.”
Hunter Witt, an eighth-grader at Stevens Middle School who attended the meeting with a group of Boy Scouts for a government merit badge, told the council that his school in need of repairs or replacement.
“The heaters, they’re so loud,” Witt said. “It’s hard for teachers to teach.”
Witt described dripping sinks in his science class and crumbling wood bleachers in the gymnasium.
“If you make school better for (kids), they’re going to want to go,” said Witt, who received an ovation for his testimony.
“There’s going to be more success.
“And yeah, it will cost a lot of money, but it will be one of the best things you could do for this community,” Witt added.
“And I really think that you guys need to talk to more students about this and get their first-hand stories because all the people who are trying to go against this, they’re not the ones going to school.”
Eight speakers testified in support of the levy, including Steve Methner of the pro-levy Port Angeles Citizens for Education.
Methner said the McCleary decision, a state Supreme Court ruling that requires the legislature to fully fund basic education, does not address facilities.
Three of the five speakers who testified against the levy took two turns at the podium.
“We’ve been taxed to death,” Smith said. “This hurts. I can’t afford to heat my entire house.”
“How about the citizens?” Shotthafer asked in a telephone interview.
“Who speaks for the citizen?”
All seven council members spoke in favor of the levy before voting to endorse it.
First-year council member Kate Dexter, a substitute teacher and parent of students at Franklin and Stevens, said both schools “desperately need some upgrade.”
“And I think the longer we wait, the more expensive it potentially becomes,” Dexter said.
Councilman Michael Merideth, a Port Angeles High School graduate and father of three students in the school system, said rejecting the levy would be akin to “kicking the can down the road.”
“Sooner or later, these schools have to be replaced,” Merideth said.
“It needs to be done, and I don’t want to come back to this 20 years from now paying 10 times more than we should have.”
Merideth added that he was “highly disappointed” to see students in portable classrooms at overcrowded schools.
First-year council member Jim Moran defended the council’s authority to take a position on the levy.
“Not only do we have the right to express our opinion on this issue, I feel we have the obligation to you as the citizens to express our opinions on this issue,” Moran said,
“That’s why you elected us.”
First-year council member Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin said the people have a duty to “look out for the kids” and their education.
“We look to the kids in the audience as the future of Port Angles, and we want to be here for you,” Schromen-Wawrin said.
Mayor Sissi Bruch, a senior planner for the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, said the No. 1 indicator for the health of a city is the health of its schools.
Bruch said she delayed her move to Port Angeles in part because of the condition of the high school.
“It was a significant detriment, so I waited,” Bruch said.
“I believe that we definitely need new schools. … I think it would benefit all of us.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at email@example.com.