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Bellevue School Board approves new levy for February ballot

The Bellevue School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to place a pair of levy proposals on the February ballot. The measures would raise a combined $266 million if approved by voters, and both would replace expiring levies.

One levy would authorize the district to collect $191 million over four years to pay for operations and educational programs, including salaries and benefits, transportation, athletics, English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, and the district’s seven-period day.

The other levy would raise $74 million over five years to fund technology improvements and capital-projects such as new computers, software licenses, teacher training, maintenance projects, sports-field renovations, and an upgrade to the former Ringdall Middle School, which houses students during remodeling projects at their native schools.

The two measures could increase local levy payments by 22 percent before they expire -- 4.4 percent each year. This would cost the owner of a $600,000 home $1,414 in 2014, a jump from $1,140 in 2009.

The district’s financial experts predict that the real cost will be a combined increase of 15 percent, or three percent per year, for the five-year duration of the levies. This would cost the owner of a $600,000 home $1,319 in 2014.

The state legislature is expected to consider a bill next year that would raise the cap on school levies by more than four percent.

“If I were a bettor, I’d say it won’t pass,” said district financial consultant Howard Johnson.

The levy rate for Bellevue schools has been stuck at 30 percent for nearly two decades.

School-board members on Tuesday expressed a desire to keep the levy amounts high enough to cover funding gaps that may occur as the state deals with its financial woes.

“I think (voters) are more than happy to support us if we do this right the first time,” said board member Paul Mills.

“They’d be disappointed if we don’t have adequate funding later,” Mills added.

The district is facing an uncertain financial forecast, in part due to questions about what the state lawmakers will do about public-education funding in the coming legislative session. The school board met with local legislators Sen. Rodney Tom, Rep. Marcie Maxwell, and Sen. Fred Jarrett during their Tuesday meeting.

State lawmakers this year suspended funding for I-728, the class-size initiative that voters approved in 2000. Federal stimulus money helped cover some of the losses in this and other areas like special education, but that boost is temporary.

The district expects it could save 34 teaching jobs with its proposed levy for operations and educational programs.

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