Billions in school funding on February ballots

Jan 28, 2013

Washington voters have begun receiving ballots for a special election on February 12th, with billions of dollars for schools at stake.

Seattle Public Schools is asking voters to approve more than $1.2 billion in construction and operating funds, much of which would go toward overhauling or replacing old buildings, like the 1950s-vintage Arbor Heights Elementary in West Seattle. Principal Christy Collins recently showed off a chilly special education classroom there.

“We’ve had a boiler that’s been down for at least six months. So part of the [capital] levy is, of course, to make sure that all of our students are working in classrooms where they can remove their coats, remove their hats, remove their mittens,” Collins said.

The two measures add $10-15 a month to the tax bill of someone with a $400,000 home. Seattle voters haven’t rejected a schools financing measure in 17 years.

That’s not the case in Tacoma, where the school district is floating a half-billion dollar bond – its largest ever. Tacoma voters rejected the last two school bonds, which require 60 percent approval. (Voters did pass several smaller levies, which require only a simple majority)

Four years ago advocates for minority children opposed a school bond to protest achievement gaps. Tacoma News Tribune education reporter Debbie Cafazzo said several of those groups are backing this year’s measure.  

“I don’t know whether that will be significant, but it was pretty significant in 2009 when those groups said they were actively against the bond,” Cafazzo said.

Altogether, 27 counties will have school financing measures on the February ballot, affecting more than a million voters.