Op-Ed: Upcoming levy vote crucial to Ballard students
By Mwiza Kalisa, Schools First campaign
This week, voters will receive ballots in the mail for the renewal of two property tax-levies. The levies are the only measure on the ballot and will bridge state funding gaps and support facility improvements for Seattle Public Schools.
As part of Seattle Public School’s overall plan, the levy measures will support Fort-nine thousand students in Seattle’s public schools. Proposition 1: a $551.9 million operations levy will provide funding for approximately 26 percent of Seattle Public School’s operating budget over the next three years. The school levy will help fund textbooks, teacher’s salaries, transportation, security and special-education programs, among other day-to-day costs not fully funded by the State.
The $649.9 million Capitol Levy (BEX IV) will provide funding to maintain, improve and expand school buildings.
“We’re really modern and we have great facilities but there are definitely things that need improvements,” said Kelsey Mendenhall, who is a senior at Ballard High School. The school has a roof that is leaking and on many occasions rooms are not heated. Mendhall, a video student, recognizes how crucial funding is to her education.
“School funding is incredibly important,” she said. “Without education you don’t have success really for anyone and so funding education facilities should be a priority”
Julia Hanson, ASB President, also attends Ballard High School. She attributes her success as a student to the school’s leadership class. Hanson’s sixth period for high school is ASB Leadership, which is funded by the operations levy.
“It’s an experience that has completely shaped my life and my values,” she said. “The school levies have given me an opportunity to experience leadership and I don’t know where I would be without that class. It helped keep me out of trouble and it turned my life around.”
Recently, funding was cut for student clubs and extracurricular activities at Ballard High School. Additionally, classroom technology in the school is outdated. “I know money is tight, but in the school a lot of the computers and technologies are not up-to-date,” Hanson said. “In this new technological phrase that is something we really need to learn.”
Under the BEX IV Capital Levy, all schools are slated to receive technology upgrades that include wireless internet access and improved accounting systems.
Before attending Ballard High School, Hanson was a student at Whitman Middle School, which is one of five schools that will receive funding for roof work. “I feel that school funding hurts middle schools the most, just from my experience,” she said. “Education is the foundation of our society and it should put first before anything, it’s our future.”
As the Principal of Ballard High School, Keven Wynkoop is concerned about his students, faculty and the conditions of the school. Wynkoop, who is a third generation Ballard High School graduate, said that if the levies are not renewed programs would be cut and the school would lose multiple teachers and counselors.
“The idea of losing 26 percent of the budget would have far reaching impacts and there would be massive cuts across the board,” he said. “Without funding keeping pace, we will fall further behind.”
The renewal of the BEX Capital Levy will replace or renovate school buildings, many of which are more than 50 years old. Additionally, the levy will provide funding for new schools and school expansions in response to increased enrollment in recent years. Within the past year, enrollment in Seattle public schools has increased by about 1,400 students and an additional 7,000 students are anticipated over the next decade. Wynkoop predicts that enrollment in Ballard schools will continue to grow. Currently, 1,625 students attend Ballard High School.
“Neither one of these levies is a new tax,” Wynkoop said. “We have to continue to educate our students as best we can. If you look at schools that were rebuilt in the last 15 years, they have all been huge successes.”
Wynkoop would like to see changes in the school’s security system and learning facilities. He believes that an improved security system will provide a secure and safe learning environment. “To be able to have well-maintained buildings and to have access to technology and lab facilities makes a huge difference,” he said.
Wynkoop believes in the power of public education and he added that his beliefs and values are reflected to students at Ballard High School. “When I come to all evening events and see the powerful things our students are able to produce, with guidance from teachers and staff, it blows my mind,” he said. “It makes me believe that better times are ahead of us and anything is possible when our children mature and continue to grow.”
Both propositions are renewals of existing levies. If approved, these levies would cost the owner of a $400,000 home approximately $13 a month over what homeowners pay on the existing expiring levies.
Schools First is a grassroots, citizen-based organization that has conducted Seattle school levy campaigns since 1995.
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