PORT ANGELES — Voters in the Port Angeles and Cape Flattery school districts have two days to decide whether or not to support local school levies.
Ballots must be postmarked by Tuesday or returned to a ballot drop box by 8 p.m. that day to be counted in the special election.
Port Angeles-area voters are considering a six-year capital projects levy that would fund an expansion and major renovations at Stevens Middle School, freeing up space at each elementary school.
Voters in the Cape Flattery School District are considering a two-year educational programs and operations levy that would fund smaller class sizes, extracurricular activities and enhancement activities like drug and alcohol prevention and after school programs.
The Clallam County Auditor’s Office had received 6,973 special election ballots as of Friday, Auditor Shoona Riggs said.
That’s 31.9 percent of the 21,854 ballots mailed to registered voters in the Port Angeles, Clallam Bay-Sekiu and Neah Bay areas.
Of the early-arriving ballots, 6,750 were from Port Angeles and 223 were from Cape Flattery, Riggs said at the close of business Friday.
The Port Angeles levy would collect $46.7 million for capital facilities if approved by a simple majority of 50 percent plus one vote.
It would cost property owners in the district $2.47 per $1,000 of assessed value from 2019 through 2024.
“I hope people understand that the longer we wait, the more this will cost,” said Steve Methner, co-chair of Port Angeles Citizens for Education.
The McCleary decision, a state Supreme Court ruling that requires the state Legislature to fully fund basic education, does not address facilities, Methner added.
The proposed levy would fund a 14-classroom expansion and upgrades to the existing Stevens Middle School, which was built in 1960 and houses nearly 550 seventh- and eighth-graders.
With modern classrooms, space for 900 students and a new bus lane to alleviate traffic congestion, sixth-graders would be moved back to Stevens if the levy passes.
Moving sixth graders would allow the elementary schools to meet new minimum class size requirements
A $2.47 school levy would result in a property tax increase of $494 per year for the owner of a $200,000 home.
To calculate the levy’s impact on annual property tax, multiply your property value by 2.47 and divide that number by 1,000.
“The proponents don’t realize the impact of sucking $47 million out of the economy in six years, and with very little of this amount being spent to provide local employment,” said Dan Shotthafer of the anti-levy Citizens for Affordable Schools.
Shotthafer — husband of Susan Shotthafer, who resigned from the Port Angeles School Board in November — and others have argued that the levy would place an excessive burden on those who are struggling to make ends meet.
“I visited the home of an older couple wanting one of our campaign signs for their yard,” Shotthafer said.
“They came to their door wearing coats and explained they could not adequately heat their home due to soaring utility bills. How will younger, low income families pay this tax?”
Citizens for Affordable Schools developed a website, www.stop75percenttax.com.
The 75 percent comes from adding $2.47 to the existing $3.20 school levy, a difference of 77.2 percent.
However, the $3.20 educational programs and operations levy will be lowered to $1.50 next year, Methner said.
“People are still going to have an operations levy burden, but it’s going to shift to the state level,” Methner said in a telephone interview.
“We’re going to go down $1.70, and the state levy is going to go up about a dollar.”
The capital levy proposal has been endorsed by the Port Angeles City Council, Clallam County commissioners, Olympic Medical Center, Port of Port Angeles and Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe.
In 2015, the district failed to garner the 60-percent supermajority it needed to pass a 25-year, $98.2 million bond that would have funded the replacement of Port Angeles High School.
District officials have since developed a long-term, pay-as-you-go plan that begins with Stevens Middle School.
Future levies would be proposed to rebuild Franklin Elementary in 2024 and Port Angeles High School and Hamilton Elementary in 2030.
More than 69 percent of Port Angeles School District voters backed a $36.4 million, four-year education programs and operations replacement levy in February 2017.
“We know that most people in our district support schools,” Methner said.
“Our last levy passed at almost 70 percent.”
Unlike the failed bond measure, the proposed capital levy is interest-free, with every dollar collected going to capital improvements.
“I think people also like the idea that this is a six-year window, and they get to have another say in six years for the next stage of the plan,” Methner said.
The $46.7 million total levy amount would be matched with nearly $15 million in state funding, $5.6 million of which is tied to the demolition of Monroe Elementary School, district officials have said.
“They think because they can afford this tax, other people can,” Shotthafer said in an email.
“What about people with less financial ability? We’ve witnessed a discouraging lack of awareness, sensitivity and empathy for the needs of others in our community.”
If the levy fails, Shotthafer said he would be willing to work with district officials to find more affordable ways to improve facilities.
“They’re all good people,” Shotthafer said in a later interview.
“We all love kids. We just have a different approach.”
Methner provided a link to a student-produced YouTube video on the current state of Stevens Middle School.
To view the 3-minute, 41-second clip, click on www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSUgUcvi9Kg.
Another video is on the Port Angeles Citizens for Education at http://www.yesforpaschools.org/.
Meanwhile, voters in the Cape Flattery School District are being asked to support a levy that would generate $275,000 for programs and operations in each of the next two years.
The estimated levy rate is $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.
The educational programs and operations, or EPO, levy would replace a $375,000 levy that will expire at the end of this year, Superintendent Michelle Parkin said.
“We could not get by without this funding,” Parkin said in a telephone interview.
“With the levy also comes levy equalization funding that the state provides, and that assists us because we don’t have the same tax base as an urban community has. So we’re depending on that funding to be able to continue to sustain the services for our students.”
Like the Port Angeles levy, the Cape Flattery measure requires a simple majority to pass.
“This school district has always been supported by the communities that it serves,” Parkin said.
“We’re very grateful for that support, and we’re encouraged by the past record that the levies have passed.”
Parkin reminded voters to mail their ballots by Tuesday.
Ballot drop-off options include a 24-hour drive-up box at the Clallam County Courthouse and a walk-up box at Forks City Hall, 500 E. Division St.
Forty-one Clallam County voters received late ballots last week because of a software error in the state Department of Licensing’s driver licensing database that caused information to not be transmitted to the Office of the Secretary of State’s voter registration database, Riggs said in a news release.
Nearly 7,000 voters in the state were affected, officials said.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].