Bellevue schools bond and levy ballots mailed to voters

Ballots have been mailed for the Feb. 11 special election, in which voters will approve or deny two property tax levy renewals and one bond measure for the Bellevue School District.

Two propositions, if approved, would renew the district’s Educational Programs and Operations levy, and its Technology and Capital Projects levy. The current incarnation of the programs and operations levy presently funds about 27 percent of the district's day-to-day expenses, including arts, language programs and additional teachers to expand offerings to students. The technology levy pays for classroom technology and a renewal would mean the expansion of Sammamish High School’s student laptop program.

The third proposition concerns phase three of the district’s capital construction campaign to rebuild the remainder of district schools. If approved, it would provide $450 million in general obligation bonds to fund the rebuilding of six campus, as well as improvements to the Big Picture School and International School. Monies raised also would fund the construction of two new campuses — likely elementary schools – in Bel-Red and downtown areas, said Melissa deVita, the deputy superintendent of financial services and operations.

“We anticipate building a small configuration of elementary schools,” Supt. Tim Mills said, though planning won’t begin in earnest until the district knows it has the backing of voters.

Under its capital construction campaign the district has rebuilt 18 campuses since 2002. Pending work on Tillicum Middle School – planning is scheduled to begin later in 2014 – will mark the end of the current phase of the campaign. Each project has brought the district further away from the pod buildings and open-air campuses that were the hallmark of rapid campus constructions in 1970s Bellevue, a period of heavy growth in district enrollment.

“The district’s average growth has been 2 percent per year and I believe it has been since 2000,” Mills said. “I recently saw a 50-year enrollment pattern for the district and, looking all the way back to 1960, enrollment was 12,000. But then we had a period of rapid growth, up to 25,000 students over the next decade. Then we had a slow decline to 14,000, up until the period of slow growth we’ve been seeing.”

The district expects to have 20,000 students enrolled in the next three years, Mills said.

Modernization has seen campuses shift to centralized buildings, allowing improved energy efficiency and lockdown capability in emergencies.

Bellevue schools’ 27 percent reliance on operations levy dollars makes it somewhat of an anomaly among Washington state school districts. Every district has the ability to seek local levy dollars to fund part of their budget, but most are capped to 20 percent. The Bellevue School District was grandfathered in to allow a greater percentage of local funding, said school board member Chris Marks.

“(Because of those funds) we’re way ahead of the game in terms of meeting state expectations,” Marks said. “An example is, for a long time, there has been an assumption that our kids will take a math class every year. They don’t have to do that under state requirements, but that’s a real difference in their life.”

Operations levy dollars have become crucial in funding arts programs in the district’s elementary schools, world language in middle schools, gifted and special education programs, and staffing for optional additional class periods.

If any of the measures don't, the district will have the option to resubmit again to voters in May.

All three funding measures have gained the backing of the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce, Seattle/King County Realtors and Bellevue Quality Schools.

“I’ve had so many parents tell me (they) moved here because of the school district,” Quality Schools Co-Chair Tobey Bryant said. “... But (among childless voters) people also believe in their communities. A common thing I’ve heard people say is ‘good schools mean I will have good neighbors.’”


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