School levies now easier to pass

Voters statewide have apparently approved a proposal to allow school district levy requests to be approved by a simple majority vote, rather than the traditional 60 percent supermajority, but the election results in Island County differ.

The majority of Island County voters opposed changing the state Constitution to allow school levies to pass by the easier margin.

The vote did not affect school bond issues for major construction projects. Those still require a 60 percent supermajority.

As of a Nov. 13 count, the county auditor’s office showed that 51.70 percent of Island County voters opposed the change to the state Constitution. A few votes remain to be counted but the margin will likely hold.

That is different than the statewide count that shows the change will become law after garnering just over 50 percent of the vote. The proposal was losing for several days, but late King County vote counts put it over the top. Although supporters have already declared victory, results won’t be official until the election is certified later this month.

“I think this is a great endorsement of public schools,” said Peter Szalai, president of the Oak Harbor Education Association, who has long argued that it should be easier to pass routine maintenance and operation levies.

However, the negative vote in Island County suggests that, in Oak Harbor’s case at least, passing school levies will remain a challenge.

“We still have to prove to the public that we need this levy,” school board member Vicki Harring said Thursday.

Of the 16 levies the Oak Harbor School District has offered to voters since 1968, half of them didn’t even earn 50 percent of the vote.

Harring put the blame squarely on the school district for not effectively communicating with the public about the need of those measures that ultimately failed.

“It meant we weren’t doing our job,” Harring said.

The school district has had better luck in passing maintenance and operations levies in recent years. Voters approved measures in 2001 and again in 2005.

The current levy pays the salaries of 20 teachers and allows for an art and physical education program to run in each of the elementary schools.

That levy goes before voters for renewal in 2009. Harring said a committee is just starting to form to examine the school district’s needs that will be addressed on the renewal levy.

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