Voters decide schools' future in Coupeville

Coupeville Elementary second-grader Holley McKinney reads aloud for teacher Cheryl Engle in a reading program supported by the district’s levy, up for renewal Feb. 5. - Rick Levin
Coupeville Elementary second-grader Holley McKinney reads aloud for teacher Cheryl Engle in a reading program supported by the district’s levy, up for renewal Feb. 5.
— image credit: Rick Levin

The Coupeville School District is bringing another 4-year funding levy to the ballot in February, and educators are hoping to get the same vote of confidence they received from residents the first time around.

The Feb. 5 levy proposal is similar to the one that was approved by voters in 1998. The old levy expires at the end of this year. Notably, there is only a small increase in the rate of the new levy, which averages $1.45 per $1,000 of assessed property value, and which provides the school district with approximately 17 percent of its current operating budget.

Coupeville School District business manager Nancy Conard said that the minimal increase in the levy this time around (the existing levy is $1.35 per $1000) represents a kind of cost-of-living increase. “There is a slight increase from year to year,” Conard said on Tuesday, explaining that because levies are figured by enrollment, districts usually ask for the maximum allowable by state law. Conard added that, because Coupeville doesn’t foresee an major increase in enrollment, it’s unlikely that the levy will be taxed to its full capacity.

“It’s a steady-as-she goes kind of levy,” said Coupeville School Board President Mitchell Howard. “It doesn’t represent any radical shift.”

Howard said that funds secured by a 4-year levy, which amounted to about $1.36 million for the ‘98 levy, have allowed the district to engage in longer range planning. The state’s chunk of funding, while representing 75 percent of Coupeville’s budget, only provides for what Howard terms the “bare bones” of education. It is that extra 17 percent, Howard said, that “makes the difference between adequate education and our district’s goal of reaching excellence.”

Howard said he believes that there are tangible results of the benefits provided by the last levy, though he added the a continuation of taxpayer funding wouldn’t mean that “the district can just lay back and run on autopilot for the next four years.”

Coupeville’s levy rate, said Howard, is the lowest among the 22 districts in Island, Skagit and Snohomish counties. The levy rate in Mt. Vernon, for example, is $3.26 per $1,000 of assessed property value, and Marysville, the highest, pegs in at $4.08 per $1,000.

Superintendent Suzanne Bond pointed to myriad examples where the levy has improved education and would continue to do so. She said that the levy has helped the district provide extra staff, which in turn has lowered class size. The levy also funds the entire co-curricular program, provides support for special needs students and staff professional training, absorbs transportation costs and has brought in new technology, along with a tech maintenance person. The district’s after-school activities and community education programs are also beneficiaries of the extra funding provided by the levy.

“Those are very important things to improving student achievement,” Bond said. “I do believe we’ve shown success that is due in large part to the support of our community through the levy.”

Bond said the Coupeville district, like the state, has been focusing on school reform, and that part of that focus has evolved as a 6-year strategic planning process. The levy has funded special programs such as reading intensive classes that have helped teachers and students meet both the district’s and state standards in this area.

“We’re seeing the results,” said Bond. Here she pointed to Coupeville’s strong results in the most recent Washington Assessment of Student Learning test, where students in 7th and 10th grades often placed in the top ten among 296 school districts in the categories of reading, writing and math.

Such scores show an improvement that has developed over the course of funding from the ‘98 levy, Bond said, though she was quick to add that numerous other factors such as volunteerism, community support and staff dedication also have played an important role in Coupeville’s upswing.

However, if the new levy doesn’t pass, Bond said that “we would most likely have to eliminate some personnel.”

Howard also noted the importance of the levy in terms of its absence. “If the levy went away,” he said, “we would be seriously impaired in making this the quality district it is now.”

He said that that the state’s portion of education funding “is basic in only the most minimalistic sense,” and that “it certainly doesn’t meet the aspirations of most districts that have their lights on.

“The maintenance and operations levy is critical to making our education as close to excellent as we can make it,” Howard said.

Although election day is Feb. 5, citizens who vote absentee received their ballots in the mail late last week.

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