School levies set for 2006 vote - Voters to decide on operations and transportation funding Feb. 7

By Katherine Sather

The Mercer Island School district will ask voters to renew two school levies Feb. 7.

The first is a maintenance and operations levy amounting to about $36.7 million to be collected over four years. The second, a $400,000 transportation levy, will be used to replace aging school buses.

Board members approved the ballot measures at their Nov. 3 meeting. Current levies expire this year. The operations levy provides roughly 25 percent of the school's general fund, said Mike Ziara, associate superintendent of business services. It makes up for what the state and federal government don't provide.

``If we didn't have those revenues, there would be dramatic implications to the programs we'd be able to offer kids,'' he said. ``It contributes to the cost of everything to run the school district.''

As part of the four-year operations levy, $8,400,000 will be collected in 2007, or $1.20 per thousand dollars of assessed value. It will increase to $9,000,000 in 2008, $9,400,000 in 2009 and $9,900,000 in 2010, or $1.41 per thousand dollars.

The school bus transportation levy, $400,000, will replace aging school buses in the district in a 12-year plan. Buses cost roughly $100,000 and must be replaced every 15 to 20 years. By 2017, the plan calls for 11 buses to be replaced.

``We've got to have safe equipment to transport our children around the Island,'' Ziara said.

The Committee for Mercer Island's Public Schools, a volunteer organization that's supported school financing on the Island for decades, will spend 10 weeks campaigning for the election. They'll begin before the holiday season, said Frank Morrison, co-chair of the group. They will use 400 to 500 Islanders to get the word out with a phone tree, yard signs, newspaper notices and PTA meetings.

``Our objective is to make it clear it's just a renewal and business as usual, but nonetheless still very important,'' he said.

He said that in the mid 1970s, the general fund levies were called ``special levies.'' They paid for music programs, arts, science and gifted programs in schools.

``Now they're not special, they're absolutely essential,'' he said. ``Because of the currently level of basic education funding, we can't have anything near the program we're used to without passing the general levy fund.''

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