EVERETT — After voters in Lakewood School District resoundingly rejected two levy measures last month, school leaders committed to trying again in the April 28 special election.
Then the effects of the coronavirus outbreak started spreading, the economy began wavering and the governor ordered public schools to close.
And late last week, district officials decided to yank the measures from the ballot. They concluded it isn’t the right time to try to talk with voters about the critical importance of the money when their minds are focused on the pandemic.
“The board in re-running the levies really wanted to be sure we were having a meaningful conversation with our community,” said Superintendent Scott Peacock. “We want to respect the community and the realities they are living with right now. We’ll come back and reengage at a time when the discussion will have a rightful place.”
By state law, school districts are given two chances to pass levies in a calendar year. That means the district could try in August or November.
Peacock said that following the February election, the district started preparing for the potential of budget cuts next school year if the levy doesn’t pass. Receipts from the levies cover the cost of programs, services and staff not funded by the state.
“It would be really traumatic for the district,” he said.
Three other school districts — Darrington, Everett and Sultan — are proceeding with ballot measures in the April special election.
Darrington, like Lakewood, failed to pass a levy proposal in February. It is trying again with a slimmed down measure.
Voters are being asked to supplement the existing enrichment levy by a sum of $400,000 in each of the next two years. Superintendent Buck Marsh said that is less than half the amount sought in February.
“February’s election demonstrates that voters expect us to make budget cuts, which are already in the works for next year,” he said. “We recognize that these are challenging times, and that there is a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty. At the same time we have a responsibility to plan for the future.”
Policy changes in Olympia negatively impacted the bottom line for the district, he said, noting April’s election “is the last opportunity to pass a supplemental levy that would prevent large-scale budget cuts for the 2020-21 school year.”
Everett school leaders said they considered withdrawing a $317 million construction bond measure given the extraordinary circumstances facing district families and the community. They decided to push ahead and said passing the bond would be a positive for the community with its long-term benefits for education of students throughout the district.
“Right now our full attention is on the safety and welfare of our students and staff,” said Superintendent Ian Saltzman. “We did consider if we should continue with the bond in April and came to the same conclusion — it also is critical to the safety and welfare for our students. We need to be thinking on what is best today and what is best for the future. And that is why we are moving forward with the bond.”
The Sultan School District will have a six-year, $12.7 million capital levy on the ballot. If passed the money will pay for an array of safety, security, and critical infrastructure projects.
Ballots for the election will be mailed April 9.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.