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Lake Washington School District seeks city support of bond, levies

In 2009, the Lake Washington and Issaquah School districts battled against what was described as the worst state education budget in America. Cuts of more than $7 million to each district threatened the jobs of hundreds of local teachers. But while those job losses were eventually avoided, the budget shortfall did result in the loss of essential school programs, raised the cost of extra-curricular activities and sports, and reduced access to training for staff. As bad as last year was, Lake Washington School District (LWSD) Superintendent Chip Kimball is bracing for worse to come. "It's a very dire situation," he told the Sammamish City Council at their meeting at City Hall on Tuesday, Dec. 8. "We're in a bit of a pickle as a state." Kimball made a presentation to the council on the two levies and one bond that will go before voters in February of next year - a four-year Educational Programs and Operations Levy (EPO), a four-year Capital Projects Levy (CPL) including both facilities and technology items, and a new bond measure. Although the school district cannot directly lobby for support for levy and bond measures, the purpose of Kimball's visit was to seek an endorsement from the council ahead of the election. Following the presentation, members of the Lake Washington School District Foundation and supporters of local schools formally asked for the council's endorsement of the levy and bond measures. The EPO Levy would renew the current levy, which will expire at the end of 2010. The total under the proposal ranges from $49.1 million in 2011 to $60.1 million in 2014, and is the source of almost one-fifth of the district’s operating budget. It pays for many of the district's core items such as teacher training, textbooks, and transportation. The renewal CPL provides money to pay for building repairs and system replacements as well as technology replacement and upgrades. The bond measure, for $234 million, would enable the construction of two new elementary schools in Redmond, the expansion of Redmond and Eastlake High Schools and the Environmental and Adventure School in Kirkland. It will also fund rebuilding Juanita High School, which was described by Kimball as "a challenged facility, to say the least." The Juanita rebuild, which will involve completely tearing down the existing facility, was planned for 2014. But the district is moving now to take advantage of the favorable bidding environment for construction projects which has seen project bids typically coming in about 20 percent below estimates, as firms jostle for work in lean times. This year, this bidding environment Link text saved the City of Sammamish more than $4 million on construction of the 244th Avenue extension, millions on the East Lake Sammamish Parkway project, and hundreds of thousands of dollars on other projects. City Manager Ben Yazici applauded the school district's effort to accelerate its capital projects to take advantage of low bids. Referring the substantial number of school construction projects planned, Kimball said the bond would provide a much needed injection of development into the area. "The Lake Washington School District is going to be a stimulus package for this city, if we can," he said. Councilmember Kathy Huckabay said she was curious where the school district was seeing the growth that demanded new schools, given that the Issaquah School District is currently experiencing a slight contraction. "We are seeing growth in the Redmond Ridge area, and the 116th street corridor (in North Redmond)," Kimball said. He anticipates 250 additional students will enroll in the district in 2010, and 2,500 more by 2020, at which time he estimates an additional eight elementary schools will be needed. However Kimball hopes these numbers will be offset by a move from a K-6 elementary structure to K-5, reducing the crowding at elementary schools. The move is part of the district's plan to change their high school program from three years to four, in line with most other schools and a growing belief that having students enter high school in the ninth grade better prepares them for college. Though sympathy for the plight of schools is high, Kimball said that even if the bond and levies passed, the district still expects a budget cut of more than $4 million, depending on the state government's ability to find new sources of revenue. Though Governor Christine Gregoire's budget which she proposed last week included no new sources of revenue, deferring to many citizen's opposition to taxes to pay for human services, it is widely expected the resultant decimation of schools and social programs will lead to sufficient public outcry that new revenue sources be found. Gregoire's plan to balance the $2.6 billion state budget deficit includes cutting $78.5 million from a voter-approved measure, I-728, to reduce class sizes. Kimball said the state had already cut 75 percent of the district's I-728 funding, and would likely cut the remaining portion in 2010. "It's going to be the worst year for anything," said school district parent Barbara Billinghurst, who is also a member of the Washington State Parents and Teachers Association. The total of all three measures would increase the total tax paid on a home with the average assessed value in the district from $1,448 in 2010 to $1,618 in 2011, or an increase of approximately $170. For more information on the LWSD, visit www.lwsd.org
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