What you’ll be voting on in February: Seattle Public Schools details levies, answers questions

(Slide deck from last night’s meeting – see it here as a PDF)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Why DOES Seattle Public Schools put its levies on a “special election” ballot in February, instead of November when everything else is out to be voted on?

That was one of the questions asked – and answered – as the district led an informational meeting at West Seattle High School last night about the two levies it plans to put before you on February 9th, 2016, known as Operations and BTA IV (background info here).

This was the third in the district’s second series of five citywide meetings, deputy superintendent Flip Herndon said, and by far the best turnout, by multiple accounts – about three dozen people, around half there to show support for a project that’s not on the levy’s draft project list, the West Seattle Indoor Tennis proposal – yet.

The BTA levies, of which this is the fourth (therefore the IV), run for six years; the full name is the Buildings, Technology, and Athletics/Academics Capital Levy. The Operations Levy is for three years, and it also is on the February 9th ballot. What it’ll cost you depends on the assessed value of your home and the total assessed value of all Seattle property. Herndon said much of the increasing price tag of the levies is attributable to the district adding 8,000 students since bottoming out around 45,000 in 2007 (less than half its historic high in the late ’50s and early ’60s, Herndon noted).


*25 percent of district’s annual operating costs (among other sources, 55 percent comes from state, 8.5% from federal)
*That covers “day to day educational programs/services not fully funded by the state,” including teachers, textbooks, special ed, building security, activities such as arts & athletics
*Amount is “calculated based on prior years’ state and federal revenue plus “per-pupil inflator” x “authority” percentage = maximum amount that can be collected. The estimated amounts of what it’ll bring in over the next three years:

$229.4 million – 2017
$250.3 million – 2018
$278.6 million – 2019


The one approved by voters in 2010 was for $270 million, while this one is for $475 million, 43 cents estimated per $1,000 assessed property value.

That bottomed out at 45,000 in 2007 while last year almost 53,000. (In the late ’50s/early ’60s, Seattle had 100,000 students.)

Key points of what its money is to go toward:

Buildings – $335.4 million
-Adding 2,050 student seats (including reopening EC Hughes Elementary), $87.8 million
-Property acquisition, $15 million
$114.8 million building systems
$12.4 million district-wide spport projects
$18 million in major preventive maintenance
$11 million in project management
$72.8 million in “project levy escalation/program contingency” (e.g. inflation, overruns)
$3.6 million capital-eligible projects

With the passage of this levy, the maintenance backlog, once $500 million, will drop to $250 million, the district says.

There wasn’t much said about the renovation/expansion/reopening of EC Hughes Elementary (7740 34th SW in Sunrise Heights), now empty after five years as the interim home of Westside School (WSB sponsor), which in turn followed more than 20 years as an interim/emergency site for various SPS schools/programs – only that the district hopes it will be ready to open for ~550 students in fall 2018.


This part of the BTA IV levy was discussed in the prism of “technology vision” by the district’s chief information officer Carmen Rahm, who presided over a meeting at WSHS back in March, the “tech town hall” (covered here). Sixty percent of current funding for the Department of Technology Services comes from levies, he said. There was a $92 million tech request for BEX IV three years ago, but it was almost halved. 11,000 devices in the school that are “beyond support,” he said.

Technology is seeking $104.7 million, $29 million of that for “student learning” – classroom equipment, labs, etc. $27 million would go to “instructional support / delivery.” Then physical safety and security, information/data security & privacy, various support, to $30 million.

Rahm said the current state of technology in the district is nowhere near what it should be; he put up a slide with lots of red squares marking deficiencies, green ones for the few successes, and said, “I want to be all green.” Up to 20,000 new devices will be “in the hands of students over the first three years of this levy,” he declared. And he said the district would like to upgrade processes to get into the 21st century – have admission to athletic events payable cash-free on site, for example.


The levy’s $35.2 million was broken down as:

$3.5 million for test (“assessment”) system licenses
$4.8 million for special-ed program modifications
$5 million for lab space to get middle and high schools more STEM learning
$8.3 million for program placement – modify a space when they start a new program somewhere
$13.6 million replace turf sports fields where needed, provide field lighting as needed to improve cost efficiencies

Almost everything was presented as a district-wide topline, rather than broken down into which schools are in line for what.


This began with the West Seattle Indoor Tennis supporters waving their rackets en masse with a declaration that they hope their project will be included in the levy. (Nominations were sought in April; a sheet listing nominees was circulated last night, and this one had a notation that it might be more suitable for the next BEX levy.) We wrote about the proposal in July, but community members have been working on it for two years:

(Rendering by Ryan Applegate)
In short, they’re working toward an indoor-tennis facility where the newer outdoor Denny/Sealth courts are, just west of Southwest Pool, on part of the old Denny International Middle School site (downhill from the main clearing still held in reserve for a potential new school someday).

Herndon explained the process of getting projects into the levy and the fact that many don’t make it on the first, second, even third try. He wasn’t too familiar with the proposal, but supporters explained the $24,400 grant they’ve just received from the city to conduct a feasibility study – which is just getting going right now (with a solicitation posted online today, looking for someone to do the study).

Whether they make the levy or not, supporters declared, they’ll continue working with the district and “you’ll continue to hear from us.” Organizers tell us they will have three community meetings about WS Indoor Tennis before year’s end – no dates yet, but we’ll publish announcements and you can also track ongoing developments via the group’s Facebook page.

There was a question about funding for community-based organizations operating from schools; the district officials didn’t think they were quite in the scope.

Then the question: Why not put levies like this on the November ballot? an attendee asked.

The answer touched on several points:

*November is “typically a very heavy legislative election, we don’t want to get buried” beneath other issues
*Schools are only allowed to put levies on the ballot in four months – besides November, the months are February, April, and August
*August is typically low turnout, and undesirable as a result, so that leaves February or April, and “research shows” February is best

After an hour, the group meeting adjourned and those on hand were offered the chance to talk with district officials one on one. Conversations were still going when we left about 10 minutes later.

Two more meetings are planned – the first one is tonight at Roosevelt High School in North Seattle, at 6:30 pm. The School Board will have to finalize the levies’ language before officially sending them to the February ballot.

16 Replies to "What you'll be voting on in February: Seattle Public Schools details levies, answers questions"

  • sam-c September 29, 2015 (3:29 pm)

    It’s not listed as one of the levies up for vote in February, but I’ve always wondered… what is the difference between the BTA and the BEX levies? (it looks like the tech ‘stuff’ is/ could be covered by either the BTA or the BEX levies.

  • Emmyjane September 29, 2015 (6:18 pm)

    How will levies like this be impacted by the McCleary decision? Will these no longer be needed if the state complies?

  • 935 September 29, 2015 (6:25 pm)

    They already get my tax dollars, I’ll be voting “No” on ALL fundraising measures brought to the ballot by SPS, City of Seattle and Metro, until they get their financials in order….On these measures, I wish the balloting options were Yes/No and HELL NO.

    Following the transit saga(s) here, and elsewhere and the LACK of service here in the city astounds me. You all voted to TAX yourselves for better transit, and that is far from reality. Guaranteed these levies will pass, and NOTHING will change, except your taxes assessment (upwards) unless you don’t own property – then it’s just someone else’s problem….Sigh, the Seattle Voter.

  • jissy September 29, 2015 (7:00 pm)

    I’m with 935 and was thinking NO, NO and HELL NO before I even read his/her comment. Have to say being a Seattle voter for 27 years (and SPS alum), I always voted “yes” on everything to do with Seattle Schools knowing someday I’d have children going there and I wanted them to have every opportunity/program/advantage I did once they got there. But guess what, I now have 2 kids in Elementary school and I trust SPS so little that we homeschool. That District is so top-heavy and it seems their very last concern is the students. NO. THANK. YOU. I’ll try to save some measly tax dollars for my home education curriculum.

  • Curate September 29, 2015 (7:57 pm)

    I, too, am wondering if the continual passage of public school levies simply enables the legislature to continue to ignore the McCleary decision.

    Also, interesting timing after the oh-so-recent teachers’ strike. I wonder if the district had to revise its numbers to accommodate SEA’s new contract?

  • MOVE! Seattle PLEASE! September 29, 2015 (8:39 pm)

    Curate – you are correct that voters are left in the dark on revising the numbers to accommodate the new contract for unions. How will the district pay for it? The salary part that is not funded by the state but by local levies….could be the McCleary dollars or the Levy. Wish we knew!

    • WSB September 29, 2015 (8:59 pm)

      MOVE! those were not salaries. They were detailed as what I summarized in two words because that’s what all the words boiled down to – inflation, overruns, contingency to have in case a project turned out to cost more. The levy language hasn’t been finalized so I haven’t seen the fine print … but there’s a tiny bit more info on the lines here (see “levy escalation” and “program contingency”:
      As for the McCleary question, I don’t know enough about how long that ruling says the state’s been underfunding public education. The ruling itself is from 2012. These types of levies go back many more years. The BTA chronology is here – http://bta.seattleschools.org – BTA I was passed by voters in 1998. As for Operations levies, they have been sent to voters every three years at least as far back as 2001. Most districts in our state use them.
      P.S. If you have a specific question, don’t know if they’re having any more meetings, but the district has e-mail addresses you can use, on this page. Don’t just wish you knew, ask!

      Comments and questions may be emailed;
      • for the BTA IV Capital Levy: capitallevy2016@seattleschools.org
      • for the Operations Levy: budget@seattleschools.org

  • dcn September 29, 2015 (9:34 pm)

    I wonder if Roxhill Elementary would be moved to EC Hughes, since Roxhill is not slated to be renovated (at least from what I’ve read to date). I’ve always thought the location of Roxhill on a busy street at the city boundary was strange. The entire attendance area is to the north and east of Roxhill’s location.
    EC Hughes is slightly more centrally located in the attendance area for Roxhill, although it is also close to the northeastern reaches of the very large Arbor Heights attendance area. If EC Hughes will be a new elementary instead of a new location for Roxhill, it will probably draw students that are currently in attendance areas for Arbor Heights, Roxhill, and possibly Gatewood.
    When you look at SPS’s projections for elementary attendance area maps through the year 2020, EC Hughes does not show up on any of them. The maps were last updated in February. Is the plan to reopen EC Hughes newer than that?

    • WSB September 29, 2015 (9:48 pm)

      Yes, it is. It caught me by surprise when it first turned up in a news release a few months ago (which ultimately we didn’t publish because I couldn’t get enough followup info at the time) mentioning that the state had granted SPS some money to reopen it. Until that time, it had continued to be described as an emergency/interim site – since Boren is now STEM’s permanent home, the district doesn’t have one of those over here any more. We do need to follow up on the point you bring up – how it will fit in when reopened – when would they start changing boundaries around again (in fact, a boundary meeting is coming up too – http://sps.ss8.sharpschool.com/cms/one.aspx?portalId=627&pageId=17293 – though under this set, WS doesn’t have any changes after this coming year). No one asked anything about Hughes (or Roxhill for that matter) at this meeting – the only people there to advocate for a specific project were the tennis center supporters.

  • Boltsandnuts September 29, 2015 (9:51 pm)

    Jissy- paranoia. Don’t worry though. I will socialize your kids when I am coaching, mentoring, supervising, and chaperoning them in the real world. You are being guided by fear.

  • john thomas September 29, 2015 (10:12 pm)

    $2.39 per assesed value @ 500k house = $1195 per year now and they want to tax increase $215 more. is that right (500k value) ? Hell no!

  • Nick September 30, 2015 (5:53 am)

    Voting no these levies are getting rediculous are they trying to force middle class people out of this city. I’m being levied to death my income is not keeping up with all of these tax increases

  • Lynn September 30, 2015 (7:23 pm)

    John Thomas,

    This is the way we pay for our schools in Washington. Are you telling us we should increase elementary class sizes from 24 to 32? That as our enrollment increases, we should run our schools on split schedules so that some kids go to school in the evening?

    I say hell no to your self-centered attitude. Our children deserve better.

  • A.J. October 1, 2015 (8:05 pm)

    I REALLY tried with Seattle Schools, but in the end, I wanted my kids to be successful and prepare them for college, so we pulled them out. Gatewood Elementary was the worst. They finally had to payoff the serial sexual harasser Principal to the tune of 10K, after he has chased out all the good teachers. Thank god we had options; I pity families and kids who don’t.

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