Port Angeles School District eyes levy, bond this fall

Measures would appear on general election ballot

PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles School Board unanimously agreed to set the rate for an educational programs and operations replacement levy rate at $1.40, the first step in preparing to place it on the Nov. 5 general election ballot.

The board will vote July 25 to approve the resolution, which will include the fixed amount of funds to be collected. It also will vote on a resolution for a bond measure at the likely rate of $1.41 to raise funds for the replacement of Franklin Elementary School and upgrades at Port Angeles High School to provide safety and security, among other improvements.

The levy rate agreed upon June 13 was less than the maximum $1.50 rate the board could have approved. In choosing a lower rate, the board wanted to create capacity for the bond but not raise the combined rate above $4.03 — what voters approved in February 2020 for an EP&O levy and $52.6 million five-year capital projects levy for Stevens Middle School.

Due to the rise in property values, the collection rate has steadily fallen; the $2.81 combined rate would be a reset.

The four people who spoke during public comment expressed some misgivings about the levy and bond. Among the suggestions were putting the measures on a February 2025 special election ballot, and increasing the levy rate to generate more funds that could be used to address student behavior issues and support teachers.

Director Mary Hebert said the measures should not be considered a choice between children and buildings.

“At the high school, we have to have a way to protect students,” she said. “We owe it to our high school students and the people who work there.”

School levies require a simple majority to pass, while the state requires 60 percent approval for school construction bonds. If the district’s levy and bond measures pass, those funds would not be collected until 2026.

Rising inflation and construction costs have had a significant impact on plans for Stevens Middle School. The initial architectural concept had to be changed after an engineering report conducted last summer showed the project about $16 million over budget.

Sam Shafer of INTEGRUS presented via Zoom a revised schematic design that included a new three-story academic wing. Bringing the outside into interior spaces with natural elements like wood and creating outdoor learning spaces around the exterior of the school were guiding concepts in the design, Shafer said.

Safety was a primary concern in project design.

“This building will be 100 percent secured, so when a student goes to school, he or she will be able to navigate the site and not past the contained areas,” Superintendent Marty Brewer said.

Within the fenced area, students will have access to basketball courts, a turf field, lawn and an existing playfield.

Construction is planned to start in 2026 after all of the capital levy funds have been collected.

The school district’s full-time enrollment averaged 3,441 over the course of the 2023-2024 school year, said Kira Acker, the director of finance and operations. That is the number the state will use to calculate funding for the district next year.

Declining enrollment has been a significant contributor to the rocky financial position of Port Angeles School District and others across the state.

The district’s general fund balance at the end of May was $1,711,975. Expenditures were slightly higher than what had been budgeted, so staff were considering bringing to the board at its July meeting a request for a budget extension because of additional expenses incurred during the year.

The extension would not impact the district’s projected ending fund balance. Instead, it would give it flexibility to meet its obligations.

The district’s general fund balance is typically low in May and June because it receives less apportionment from the state, so the district has to watch its cash flow closely, Acker said.

The reports were the last for Acker, who will leave at the end for June to become director of finance and operations for the Tumwater School District in Olympia.

“This is bittersweet, and I’m grateful for my time here,” Acker said.

In other action, the board unanimously approved a two-year contract with the Teamsters, the bargaining unit which represents mechanics and groundskeepers, that will increase wages by the implicit price deflator, the figure the state sets for cost of living increases for K-12 educators. The IPD was 3.7 percent for the 2023-24 school year and will be 3.9 percent in 2024-25.

In September, teachers and the school district agreed to a three-year contract with IPD increases each year. District paraeducators did not receive the yearly IPD enhancements they sought, but they agreed to a contract after a five-day strike in April that increased the number of salary steps with a 1.8 percent wage increase at each step.

Karen Casey will replace Acker as the district’s director of operations and finance. Casey begin with the district eight years ago as an accountant and rose to fiscal coordinator. Previously, she worked for 20 years in accounting for the Olympic Educational Service District in Bremerton.

The school district’s 16th annual Back to School Fair will take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Aug. 17 at Jefferson Elementary School, 218 E. 12th St. The free event helps students and parents prepare for the new school year with giveaways of backpacks filled with supplies, socks, shoes and jackets, haircuts and healthcare information.

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Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached by email at paula.hunt@peninsuladailynews.com.

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