Sequim School Board pursues placing two levies on ballot

SEQUIM — The Sequim School Board on Wednesday accepted three applications to write “pro” statements for the Clallam County Online Voters’ Guide for two upcoming district levy proposals.

The board, gathering in a special meeting, unanimously accepted applications from James Castell, Monica Dixon and Karen Hogan to provide arguments in favor of the district’s proposals that will go before voters in early February.

The district did not receive any applications to provide arguments against the levy proposals, district representatives said Wednesday.

The board’s next meeting will be today.

Sequim school leaders are proposing an educational programs and operations (EP&O) levy — a four-year, $29.7 million levy that replaces Sequim’s current local tax and pays for core learning functions not supported in the state’s basic education formula, including classroom staff, transportation, special education, librarians, counselors, nurses, school resource officer, extra curricular activities and more.

In addition, the district is proposing a four-year, $15 million capital projects levy to address a number of building issues at its five buildings and district office, from roof replacements and classroom remodels to a new technology network.

Both proposals go to voters in a Feb. 9 special election.

Officials said that the capital projects levy would, among other things, pay for roof replacements at Greywolf Elementary and Sequim Middle School, updated science rooms and heating/cooling systems at Sequim High School, a kitchen remodel at Helen Haller Elementary, water and sewer connections for Olympic Peninsula Academy buildings and a number of other facility improvements at each of the district’s five school buildings and district office.

“Some of the things were on that list seven years ago when I got involved with the schools; I think it’s time to clean up that list,” said Board Member Larry Jeffryes during a meeting earlier this month when the board approved putting the measures on the ballot.

The list for the capital levy also addresses technology needs across the district, with the cost of a base district-wide network system estimated at about $1.8 million.

“Some folks would consider (these items) wants,” said Board Member Jim Stoffer. “They’re actually needs.”

Key for safety

Board President Brandino Gibson said the capital projects levy is key for students’ overall safety and security, and provides a much-needed boost to the district’s technology needs.

“I hope that that can be a selling point, too; this (levy) brings us up to where we should be,” he said.

Local taxpayers pay $1.29 per $1,000 of assessed value for the current EP&O levy and 67 cents per $1,000 for a capital projects levy — one that funded construction of the district’s central kitchen — in 2020. That capital project is paid off at the end of 2020 and locals will see their local school levy tax drop to about $1.22 per $1,000 in 2021.

If passed, the newest capital project levy would bump that rate to about $1.86 per $1,000 starting in 2022, Gibson said.

“The (local school levy) rate is actually less than what we’re paying now,” Jeffryes said. “I think that’s very important, especially in these times.”

Board director Eric Pickens said he was hesitant on voting for a four-year levy in that it could delay a bond proposal.

“We are desperately in need of some new buildings,” Pickens said. “It’s still kind of just kicking that can down the road further.”

The levy proposals come in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and students learning remotely. Additionally, the school district has three administrators on leave, including Superintendent Rob Clark and high school Principal Shawn Langston.

“I think it’s going to be a tough sell, (with) other issues going on in the district; people are going to question that,” Gibson said.

“(But) we’ve got to take all of that off the table. We’ve got to … do what’s right for the students.”

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Michael Dashiell is the editor of the Sequim Gazette of the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which also is composed of other Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News and Forks Forum. Reach him at [email protected].

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