Why our kids need Seattle voters to renew the local education levies

Will Hershman leads his fourth-grade class in a poetry lesson at Northgate Elementary School on Jan. 31, 2018. The school is one that will receive capital improvements if voters approved a levy. (Photo by Dorothy Edwards/Crosscut)

As a Seattle Public Schools graduate, parent of three daughters who graduated from Garfield High School, and now a proud grandparent, I know strong public schools are a vital foundation of our city.

Much has been said about how schools are funded in our state; the sad reality is that Seattle’s public schools are still not fully funded. Our state Legislature has made improvements, and I have faith it will continue to make progress. But in the meantime, our schools continue to rely on local voter-approved levies to fund items fundamental to day-to-day operations.

On Feb. 12, Seattle voters will decide whether to renew two school district levies. Both replace existing levies and are not new taxes.

Renewing the capital levy, Proposition 2, provides for school construction and maintenance (another area the state has not sufficiently funded), so our school buildings are safe, healthy learning environments for all kids. This includes funding eight new schools, safety and security improvements at every school, classroom technology, and almost 2,000 new classrooms.

Renewing the operations levy, Proposition 1, helps bridge the gaps in state funding, along with helping to provide for everyday basics like instructional materials, staff salaries and textbooks.

Consider that the state funds just nine nurses for Seattle Public Schools, which has more than 100 schools and 53,000 students. Every school should have a nurse. This is a critical staff position, especially for our most vulnerable or medically fragile students. Nine nurses are woefully insufficient. The district’s local levies help narrow this gap, allowing the district to hire 63 nurses.

Similarly, did you know that our district’s more than 3,200 classrooms are cleaned only every three days? And that is after the district uses local levy funds to employ 86 more custodians than the state funds. I know the district’s custodians take great pride in their work, and it must be frustrating to have this level of underfunding. (Check out the district’s video on Montlake Elementary, where the custodian says he spends two hours a day to maintain the 100-year-old boiler. If the levies are approved, this school and its antiquated boiler will be replaced.)

Finally, consider special education services. The state provides $68 million a year to Seattle Public Schools to fund special education. But in order to meet student requirements, the district has to spend $140 million a year. That’s a $72 million gap. There is hope the state could increase funding for special education services, as it should. But until that happens, and in an amount sufficient to cover the need, our local levies are the only way to make sure students are provided critical supports to succeed.

I know this is not an easy ask to make of voters. Many of our neighbors rightfully are concerned about property taxes. But investing in our schools is worth every penny. We need great schools to have a great city. Our children need to be prepared when they graduate to succeed, innovate and become the leaders of tomorrow. Renewing these levies is crucial to that goal. I urge you to vote yes to renew Proposiations 1 and 2 in the Feb, 12 special election.

Let’s continue to invest wisely in our children by supporting public education.

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About the Authors & Contributors

Tim Burgess

Tim Burgess

Tim Burgess is a former city council member and interim mayor of Seattle.