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Tacoma schools: Focus on operations levy first

Post by Kim Bradford on Nov. 17, 2009 at 7:47 pm with 7 Comments »
December 22, 2009 2:28 pm

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

No doubt about it, the Tacoma School District needs to get its school renovation program back on track.

The failure of successive capital campaigns in 2006 and 2008 has effectively created a district of haves and have-nots. Some kids go to school in attractive new buildings hard-wired for the latest technology; others attend class in dank and dingy buildings heated by 80-year-old boilers and covered by leaky roofs.

The Tacoma School Board is appropriately eager to get a school-construction measure passed. But before it sends a proposed $140 million capital levy to the ballot next week, the board should consider tweaking its timing.

As important as capital dollars are, the district could get along without them easier than it could survive the loss of the money local taxpayers provide to hire teachers and fund educational programs.

The district’s maintenance and operations levy is due for renewal next year, and the school board is sending it to the February ballot too. Running two measures simultaneously has its advantages. The district pays for one election (or so it hopes), and levy supporters can run one consolidated campaign.

But the downside to doubling down is going bust. Passage of the district’s maintenance and operations levy – which underwrites about a quarter of the district’s annual budget – should be a given. It’s a tax people are already paying, and support for classroom education is typically an easy sell.

But the last time the district paired a operations levy with a capital funding request, both went down. In 2006, the district had to abandon its school construction bond to make a last-ditch attempt to get the operations levy passed.

Tacoma school officials may be betting that the new rule governing school levies will preclude a repeat of 2006’s near-disaster. Levies now need only a simple majority to pass, a much easier bar to clear. Perhaps they are right. The district’s $300 million construction bond in March got a 52 percent yes vote. That wasn’t enough for a bond measure, but it would pass a capital projects levy.

But many Tacomans’ financial prospects are just as bleak, if not bleaker, than they were in March. And voters are bound to notice that the annual cost of the construction measure hasn’t changed. (The school board has trimmed the size of its ask by more than half, but the district would collect the sum in far fewer years.)

Tacoma schools supporters won’t have much opportunity between Thanksgiving and the distribution of mail ballots in January to convince voters to levy a new tax to replace and overhaul aging schools.

Opposition to the capital levy could end up killing the operations levy by association. Rather than go for broke, it might be wiser to run the maintenance and operations levy in February and then return in spring for a vote on school construction.

Leave a comment Comments → 7
  1. Not another dime for new construction pipedreams until the district demonstrates that they can care for what they have.
    Last construction Bond, they wanted new baseball fields at Lincoln. They don’t have the staff to maintain the field that they have at Wilson. It’s a dump. Everything at Wilson was built and is maintained by volunteers, NOT the district because they’ve laid off most of their competent grounds people the past 6 years. Build MORE??? NO, NO, NO
    $120Million dollars poured into an ancient hotel downtown that they fill to overcrowding with anybody that wants to attend, while Wilson got $47Million to build what looks like a prison dormitory and it is underutilized and poorly built. Most of the money at Wilson was for new parking lots and street drainage, while the stairwells that were built won’t hold the crush of students at passing times..
    Learn to use what you have judiciously as I do in my budget and THEN, we’ll look into giving you more. Until then, don';t even ask.

  2. tree_guy says:

    Preperty taxes too high already in this area. Some useful ideas for stretching districts funds: payroll cuts, school consolidations, year round schools, & eliminate school buses wherever possible.

  3. Papasan: Part of this is a maintenance and operations levy, as in money to cover upkeep of what we have.

  4. ClownPosse says:

    “Learn to use what you have judiciously as I do in my budget and THEN, we’ll look into giving you more. Until then, don';t even ask. ”

    Thank You !

    Once AGAIN, you exhibited poor insight and planning by building the Taj Mahal called Mt. Tahoma !

    The Tacoma School District is unwilling and incapable of living within its means !

    Your proposal, in any form, is DOA !

  5. jenyum.
    I was not referring to the M&O Levy. which, IF stripped down to necessary operating expenses ONLY, should be passed. However, will that Levy bring back the employees in Building/Grounds Maintainence that have already been let go throughout the past 6 years? Doubtful.
    Will that levy consist of items that help maintain the property of the people in a manner that is conducive to proper maintainence, or will it be loaded down with all the little pecidilo’s and favorites that they want us to buy for them.
    Example: Several years ago, Grounds purchased a machine that, when dragged behind a vehicle will rake and level a baseball field infield while mixing the dirt, clay and composites in a proper manner. It has only been used ONE TIME. It can’t be used at Mt. Tahoma because they don’t have a dirt infield, it’s too big to get through the gate at Foss and the one time it was used at Wilson, the ground was too wet and they made a bigger mess than they fixed. I don’t know if they returned the machine or whether they still have it. It’s cost as told to me at the time was slightly over $11,000.
    Grounds tries very hard to do the jobs they have with limited people and resources. They have GREAT people there that go the extra mile to do things right. But too many times, the rug has been pulled out from them by people downtown that would rather spend $1,000 for a microscope than for a load of baseball dirt.
    When a schools grounds, playing fields and buildings are poorly maintained, the student body, staff, district and the community as a whole suffer. How does it look when teams come to Wilson and play on a pockmarked field with no water for players or bathrooms for parents/fans. It makes us look like backwoods hicks.

  6. attentive says:

    The Tacoma School District talks the talk, but doesn’t walk the walk. When I pick up my child from school, the only people getting out of the building at 2 pm, are a multitude of teachers leaving from their 180 days of 6 hours a day work whil they cry broke. Trying to get through the telephone maze to talk to an administrator is a joke because they’re never available and it sure as heck isn’t because their administrating.

    The TSD’s report card on the W.A.S.L. is dismal at best. 60% of the students read well below the national average, and few pass the math test. It’s all they ever teach to my child, true academics are out the window.

    With us the highest taxed city in the state, and still performing well below the state and national level, maybe it’s time to stop buying toys and repaving their parking lots and start spending money on text books that the students can take home to do their homework with or get the teachers out of their class rooms at “passing” to maintain discipline and get rid of the private police department that sits in the parking lot most of the day drinking coffee.

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