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Voters to decide on three school levies

On Feb. 7, voters will decide whether to pass three school levies for the Snoqualmie Valley School District: the replacement maintenance and operations levy (M&O levy), the technology levy and the school bus levy.

The district's board of directors approved the propositions on Oct. 27 of last year.

In order to be considered approved, each levy must pass by a 60-percent supermajority, as designated by state law.

A levy is short-term financing, ranging from one to six years and is specific, while a bond is long-term (20 years) financing of capital projects such as school construction and the purchasing of equipment.

"With all three propositions, the accelerated rate of growth is driving more needs; more students, more needs," said superintendent Joel Aune. "Each of these three will serve the district well."

Proposition 1:

replacement maintenance

and operations levy

The four-year M&O levy replaces the existing levy approved by voters in 2002, which expires on Dec. 31, 2006.

The levy contributes 19 percent of the district's operating budget, providing funding, in addition to state and federal funding, for day-to-day operations for teachers, support staff, maintenance and custodial services, transportation, after-school athletic and academic programs and staff training.

M&O levy funds make up the difference between what the district receives from Washington state and the federal government, and what is required to fund programs currently offered, the school district's Web site, www.snoqualmie.wednet.edu, explained.

In Washington state, funding comes from various sources including the state and federal government, as well as from tuition-based fees and the M&O levy.

"It's a big part of our budget and critical to maintaining current levels of program delivery for kids," Aune said.

The total cost of the levy will be $34.9 million over a four-year period, beginning with $7.6 million in 2007, $8.3 million in 2008, $9.1 million in 2009 and $9.9 million in 2010. Estimated tax rates (per $1,000 assessed value) are $1.54 per year. The current tax rate through the levy approved in 2002 is $1.47.

Aune explained that though the total amount for the M&O levy has seen an increase since 2002 (at $6.7 million in 2006) due mostly to the housing expansion, the rate per thousand is similar.

M&O levies require approval every four years.

Proposition 2:

technology levy

This is the first time a levy of this type has been put before voters, noted director of instructional technology Jeff Hogan. Voters approved the May 2003 bond for multiple school construction and developments including a districtwide, 20-mile fiber optic network to connect area schools that was completed in the fall of 2005.

This four-year levy would fund classroom technology upgrades and improvements.

"The state doesn't fund technology because it is not considered basic education, but the federal government with "No Child Left Behind" has required technology competence," explained Kim Horn, the school district's director.

"We need to refresh and regenerate the existing technology," Aune said. "If we're going to stay on par and competitive with neighboring school districts, then that particular initiative [is important]."

Hogan explained that the district is looking to come up with a package of classroom technology that will replace and update existing computers, as well as install new computers, labs and computer resources such as encyclopedias. It would replace many of the 27-inch televisions in classrooms with 6-to-8-foot screens and LED projectors, as well.

Hogan is also looking to expand a pilot program for interactive white boards, which are already in some classrooms. The levy would also cover updated technology training for teachers and staff.

"Technology is an important tool to enhance learning," Hogan said. "It's not the only tool, but it's important for our teachers ... kids are learning with a faster pace right now; we're looking for every advantage and every edge."

About 75 percent of the technology funds would be used to refresh or replace existing outdated technology (most of the current computers are about five to eight years old) and about 25 percent of the funds would be used to enhance technology for all schools.

The levy will cost $4 million over four years, with a $1 million distribution each year beginning in 2007. Estimated tax rate (per $1,000 assessed value) is $0.20 for 2007, $0.19 for 2008, $0.17 for 2009 and $0.16 for 2010. There is no tax rate for 2006.

"We have an adequate number of computers and an adequate amount of technology [compared to state and national trends], however, the capacity of that is becoming very limited because [of its age]," Hogan said. "We're reaching that point pretty rapidly where much of it is going to be obsolete."

Proposition 3:

school bus levy

This one-year levy provides funding to purchase about 26 school buses over the next three years, replacing 15 buses and adding 11 additional buses to the 44-unit fleet to accommodate for student enrollment increases.

The new buses will replace older buses that are no longer generating depreciation funding from the state and are at or near the end of their useful life.

The average small bus's (holding 14-16 people) life span is about eight years, while the large buses (holding between 66 and 84 passengers) last about 13 years, according to director of business services Ron Ellis. The buses currently in operation are between 15 and 21 years, noted transportation supervisor Jim Garhart.

Many buses used currently were purchased in bulk waves, so they end their life span at about the same time, Garhart said. The intention is to stagger the replacements over about a three-year period.

The levy would provide buses that use ultra-low sulfur diesel, which is a cleaner and more refined product than the current diesel used, Garhart said. The district is currently looking into biodiesel.

The levy also accommodates for the increased number of students, which means an increased need for school bus drivers and vehicles. The district covers a 400-square-mile range, an area larger than many other King County schools.

"We have a number of buses that have out-used their useful life," Ellis said. "Every year we keep those buses in the fleet, it takes money out of transportation [which, in turn] is taking dollars out of the classroom."

The newer models also have better safety options, said Garhart, noting better lighting, tread walkways, doorways that fold out instead of in and stop pads as examples.

"As far as basic day-to-day operations at the school district, obviously transporting students to and from school is an important piece," Aune said.

The levy would have a total cost of about $2.6 million to be collected in 2007 with an estimated tax rate (per $1,000 assessed value) of $0.54 in 2007. There is no tax rate currently.

State law limits school districts to one year levies for transportation.

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