Bremerton, North Kitsap voters approve school tax levies

Measures will fund educational programs, building maintenance and technology purchases

POULSBO — Voters in the Bremerton and North Kitsap school districts approved tax measures Feb. 13 supporting educational programs, school operations and maintenance, and technology purchases and upgrades.

In Bremerton, Proposition No. 1 (School Support Levy) received 3,509 votes in favor, 2,514 votes opposed in results released shortly after 8 p.m.

Prop. 2 (Technology and Capital Projects Levy) received 3,483 votes in favor to 2,523 opposed.

In North Kitsap, Prop. 1 (Education and Operations Levy) received 6,520 votes in favor to 4,085 opposed.

Prop. 2 (Facilities and Technology Levy) was approved 6,367 to 4,184.

Bremerton’s tax levies

Prop. 1 will replace an expiring property tax levy for “essential educational operating and maintenance expenses not funded by the State,” according to the measure. The levy, $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property valuation, would generate $6.6 million in 2019 and $8.6 million in 2020.

Prop. 1 will help support “employee costs (salaries), instructional materials, special programs, activities and sports, technology systems operation, transportation costs, maintenance of facilities and other non-capital expenses of operating the District schools.”

This tax levy maintains educational programs and operations that are not funded by the state, proponents Julie Wasserburger and Jonee Dubos wrote in the voter guide.

“The levy amount in this request is less than previous years,” they wrote. Ditto in North Kitsap School District. The reason the local levy amounts are lower, according to officials there: The state Legislature established a property tax to help it meet its requirements to fund basic education under the McCleary decision. But to limit the tax burden on property owners, the Legislature limited the amount school districts can now levy. “It’s a one-for-one wash,” said Dr. Laurynn Evans, North Kitsap superintendent.

Bremerton’s Prop. 1 will provide 7 to 8 percent of the district’s revenues, Wasserburger and Dubos wrote.

“The funding will help to support specialty programs such as STEM, Dual Language, Art Integration and summer school. It will also add current materials to our school libraries that support student academic research and personal interest needs. Extra-curricular programs such as music, drama, sports and other clubs will also continue to function. In addition, funding will help to attract and retain qualified staff needed to teach specialized classes and positions not funded by the state, including school security personnel and a School Resource Officer.

“Funding will also support assistance for students with special needs. All of these program, staffing and operation needs work together in creating a system that educates Bremerton’s diverse population of children.”

Prop. 2 will levy a tax rate of 67 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation in 2019, raising $2.4 million “for hardware, online applications, improved infrastructure, professional development, and services related to installing and integrating the systems,” Wasserburger and Dubos wrote.

“The outcome will be improved student learning with reliable and current hardware, modernized infrastructure, equitable access for all students, and professional development for staff on integrating technology into classroom instruction.”

There were no arguments in opposition to either proposition filed.

North Kitsap’s tax levies

Prop. 1 will continue an expiring tax levy to provide funding for instructional programs “beyond the state minimum instructional offerings,” and maintain student/staffing ratios, and programs.

The levy, $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property valuation, is projected to generate $11.4 million in 2019, $11.9 million in 2020, $12.5 million in 2021, and $13.2 million in 2022.

Prop. 2 will replace a construction bond that is expiring and will fund “construction, modernization and remodeling of existing facilities to improve the health, comfort, safety, security, facility infrastructure and class size requirements, as well as improving technology equipment and technology infrastructure.”

The levy, $1.26 per $1,000 of assessed property valuation, is projected to generate $9.2 million in 2019, $9.7 million in 2020; $10.2 million in 2021, and $10.7 million in 2022.

Rejection of Prop. 1, according to the statement prepared by the district’s attorney, “would result in increased class sizes, reductions in special education services, decreased paraeducator support for teacher and students, reduced maintenance, grounds, and custodial support for the district’s 231.56 acres of school grounds and playfields and 1 million square feet of facilities, increased bus ride times, and elimination of extra-curricular activities.”

If voters rejected Prop. 2, the district “would incur increased maintenance and operational costs to service and operate obsolete or aging facility, utilities, and technology infrastructure systems, and incur risks and costs of legal noncompliance with state mandates to reduce class sizes.”

Kim Gerlach, a licensed electrician and former school district maintenance employee, said she supports local tax funding for schools, but questioned how the district has spent those tax dollars. She cited a faulty alarm system that has required after-hour and holiday response by a maintenance worker, resulting in overtime costs; work by contractors that had to be re-done; and roofs at Gordon and Vinland elementary schools that need to be replaced four or five years after they were last re-roofed.

“There is an amazing amount of wasted dollars in NKSD,” Gerlach wrote in the voter guide. “The superintendent and board need to become fiscally responsible. Needed supplies and programs could be better afforded if the waste was cut.”

District finance director Jason Rhodes said skylights should have been replaced when Gordon and Vinland were last re-roofed. Turned out, those skylights leaked. “We have taken those skylights out of service and roofed over it,” Rhodes said in an earlier interview.

He said some work has to be re-done because the equipment being fixed — such as a 40-year-old HVAC heat exchanger at Poulasbo Elementary —was old and needed to be replaced.

Evans, who became North Kitsap’s superintendent this school year, said the alarm system is goofy — an employee who has a key to the building may not have a key to the office where the keypad is located. She said switching from a key-and-code system to key fob security system will fix it and will reduce costs. Keys don’t need to be replaced; the fob can be reprogrammed. The new system will enable a school to automatically lock down.

Evans said two changes are taking place: one, a “proper” facilities assessment is being established so issues like those skylights are brought to light. Two, the district will publicly report on its project management and completion, so the public has a scorecard on “what we’re doing and where we’re going.”

“One of the things we did is put a priority on meeting the needs of our schools,” she said. “We want to be respectful of our taxpayers. I’ve shared with people that my husband and I bought our house here before I knew this job was available. It was a stretch for us, and I’m not interested in getting taxed out of my home any more than anyone else.”

Of the tax levies on the Feb. 13 ballot, she said, “It’s a big ask. But it’s an important one.”

— Richard Walker is managing editor of Kitsap News Group. Contact him at rwalker@soundpublishing.com.

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