For the past 17 years, Seattle voters have approved every school levy that has come before them. Seattle Public Schools officials hope voters will now approve two more levies worth $1.25 billion.
The three-year operations levy is expected to sail through. Proposition 1 provides more than a quarter of the district’s operating budget, from textbooks to teachers to transportation.
But there’s organized opposition to Proposition 2, the capital levy. That six-year tax would fund renovations, expansions and maintenance throughout the district, as well as eight new school buildings.
Supporters like Schools First President Greg Wong say that’s critical for a district that needs more seats. “We have kind of a unique story in America right now, which is our urban district is growing. And it’s growing quickly," Wong told Steve Scher on KUOW's Weekday. "This year alone we added about 1,400 new students on top of the enrollment from last year. That’s the equivalent of about three elementary schools worth of kids.”
Levy critics say district officials should have foreseen that growth when they closed numerous schools over the last decade.
Seattle Committee to Save Schools coordinator Chris Jackins objects to the district’s plan to create what he calls “mega-schools” that seat huge numbers of students. The median enrollment at Seattle’s elementary schools is now about 400 students. The district proposes building elementary schools that seat 650 kids.
“Mega-schools are going to kill off neighborhood schools. That’s part of this plan," Jackins said on Weekday. "And that isn’t generally realized, that isn’t what the district is talking about, but that’s what’s going on. It’s wrong because it does not recognize the community’s connections to its schools.”
Jackins especially objects to the plan to destroy the Wilson-Pacific building that, for decades, was home to the district’s Native American education program and Native community events.
The capital and operations levies are renewals, but they’re considerably larger than the current iterations. Combined, the district says the levies would cost the average taxpayer another $152 a year for a home assessed at $400,000.
Seattle voters have until Feb. 12 to mail in their ballots for the special election. If either levy fails, the district can hold a second special election later this year.