Seattle school district seeks record $1.25 billion from voters

SEATTLE -- The Seattle School District is seeking a record $1.25 billion Tuesday, money school officials say is crucial to keeping kids educated and to keeping them in buildings that are safe and ready.

Proposition 1 is the operating levy, which totals $550 million. Proposition 2 is the capital levy of almost $700 million.

With funds from the latter, at least 17 schools would be renovated and rebuilt, including Schmitz Park Elementary in West Seattle.

“We’ve got 13 classes in portables right now.  We’ve got one set of bathrooms,” said Principal Gerrit Kischner.

His schools was built for less than 300 students; it’s now serving 540.

“There’s no space that kids can learn for small groups and to get the kind of extra attention that they need.  We have tutoring in the hallway a lot of times.”

Schmitz Park is slated to get a brand new $40 million building with funds from the capital levy. It’s one of a half dozen “mega” elementaries that will be built for upwards of 650 students.  The District says it needs the additional space for an expected 7,000 new kids over the next decade.

“I’m really excited about that opportunity,” said Kischner.

There is no organized opposition to the operating levy, but a small group has formed to fight the capital request.

“This levy will harm schools,” said Chris Jackins who is leading up the effort to defeat Prop. 2.

He believes building “mega” schools will lead to fewer neighborhood schools.

“You are not going to leave one of these new giant schools that you paid $40 or more million for half empty,” he said.  “The public would scream. You are going to be closing the other schools.”

Jackins doubts the ability of the District to correctly project enrollment. Just a few years ago the District was closing schools.

“Properties were sold for peanuts,” he said.  “They need them now.”

Schmitz Park PTA leader Derek Birnie is “confident” that the District has the numbers right this time.  He’s supporting both Prop. 2 and, especially, Prop. 1.

“It’s really crucial,” he said.  “It’s 25% of the operating budget. We’re talking about teachers, art, sports, books, you know, the components that are essential to a basic education in our school district.”

The two levies are renewals.  Currently, the average homeowner is paying about $1,000-a-year.  That’s for a house valued at $400,000.

The added cost for homeowners for these measures, because these are higher levies than before, is about $13 extra a month, or about $135 more per year.

Ballots have to be postmarked by Tuesday, Feb. 12.