Olympia schools ponder levy

OLYMPIA - The Olympia School District might ask voters to approve a four-year combined construction and technology levy in February that wouldn't raise taxes, but also wouldn't address construction needs brought on by expected growth.

The final amount for the levy has not been decided. The district is expected to ask voters to approve between $25 million and $26 million over the four-year life of the levy, spokesman Peter Rex said.

The board will consider the tax levy proposal, which would pay for about $15 million in construction projects and about $10 million in technology upgrades and training, at its meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Knox Center, 1113 Legion Way S.E.

To address growth, the district might have to return to voters in one or two years with a construction bond, assistant superintendent of fiscal and operations Jim Crawford told board members at a study session this week.

Levies can pay for construction and technology projects, but unlike bonds, which are similar to loans, the money only can be spent as the taxes are collected. School levies can be passed with a simple majority, which is anything above 50 percent voter approval. Bonds must meet the longtime requirement of 60 percent approval, called a supermajority.

Bob Marra of Olympia Citizens for Schools, which will campaign for the ballot measure that the district approves, said that voters might be more likely to approve a levy that will not increase the taxpayers’ current rates.

“We took a look at what the economy is like and what you would ask voters to do right now. To do something like a bond is a lot to ask of people,” he said. “We did not want the rate to go higher in any way, shape or form.”

He said he hoped voters would be more receptive to the district’s needs to address growth as the economy improves.

“You would hope that people would be more receptive to it then,” he said. “But to go to voters now in a difficult economy – even with Olympia voters, who are very supportive – it is a tough thing to accomplish.”

He said the proposal for the levy involves mostly maintenance items that would keep the schools in good condition.

“Every homeowner can understand needing to replace something,” he said.

The construction projects that would be covered by the latest proposal include heating and ventilation replacements and upgrades, restroom upgrades, deferred maintenance items and roof repairs at Capital High School and Olympia Regional Learning Academy, and the online program in the old John Rogers Elementary School building.

The only building that would increase in size would be Pioneer Elementary School, which would get three classrooms that weren’t built as part of the district’s most recent bond.

Technology projects under the levy proposal would include replacing older computers, creating mobile laboratories, increasing server capacity and replacing outdated or slow phone and data connections.

The proposed levy rate is estimated at between $1.22 and $1.29 per thousand of assessed value “in 2011 and 2012 and between 26 and 27 cents per thousand of assessed value in 2013 and 2014, according to district figures.

The construction projects would be budgeted for the first two years of the levy and the technology projects would be budgeted mostly for the second two years of the levy, Rex said.

Venice Buhain: 360-754-5445