Lakewood High School. (Lakewood School District)

Lakewood High School. (Lakewood School District)

Voters asked again to support Lakewood students with a levy

The school district seeks passage of a measure with a lower tax rate than those which voters rejected in 2020.

LAKEWOOD — Residents are getting asked to help the Lakewood School District deliver a more robust educational experience for students than can be achieved solely with state dollars.

A ballot measure in the April 27 special election would restore a local property tax levy to pay for items not covered by the state, like athletics, drama and band. And a portion would go to provide for smaller class sizes and specialized academic instruction, beyond what can be achieved solely with allotments from the state.

“That money is going to get used for our kids,” Superintendent Scott Peacock said. “We want the community to understand how fundamental local revenue is to the operation of our district.”

This is a familiar conversation in the community.

The state is obligated to amply fund a basic educational program for public school students. It funnels money to every district through a formula governing such things as class sizes, staffing levels and employee pay. If a district wants to do anything more — in classrooms or with compensation, for example — it has to come up with the money.

In this election, Proposition 1 would bring back an Educational Program and Operations levy, which lapsed when voters delivered the Lakewood School District a rare double defeat of its levy proposals in 2020.

The first setback came in February when 55% of voters rejected the proposed four-year enrichment levy.

Peacock and school board members redrew it, lowered the tax rate and tried again in August. But success eluded them again as 53.9% voted in opposition.

What’s in front of voters now is a levy with a lower tax rate than those put forth last year. And it would last three years rather than four.

As proposed, the tax rate would be $1.80 per $1,000 of assessed property value starting in 2022. That rate would remain the same in 2023 and 2024. The levy in August had a tax rate of $2.11.

Proposition 1 would generate roughly $6.1 million in 2022, the first year of tax collections, and $19.5 million over the course of three years. The measure requires a simple majority to pass.

Given the experience of 2020, district leaders are making an even more concerted effort to let the public know specifically how the dollars would be spent. In mailers to voters, and on the district website, they’ve broken down where the 2022 collections would go.

Overall, 42 jobs would be funded with first-year collections. Among them are teachers and paraeducators, nurses and psychologists. As one example, the state provides districts with money for roughly one nurse for every 2,500 students. Lakewood deploys nurses at every school, covering the tab with non-state dollars.

“We are showing them the practical pieces to the levy and how levies work,” said Sandy Gotts, president of the school board. “I think we have been able to get the message across very specifically and personally.”

They also are being up front about the consequences.

If the levy fails, the district will need to tighten its belt. Board members agreed last month on a blueprint to trim $2.5 million in costs through layoffs of some teachers, furlough days for administrators and reductions in assistance for educational and extracurricular programs.

In 2020, the district trimmed $1 million in spending in response to the levy failures.

Jenny Egger, a Stanwood mother of triplet sixth-grade boys enrolled in Lakewood schools, hopes it doesn’t go that direction.

“Our kids are coming back, and right when they need schools most, we’re talking about making cuts if the levy doesn’t pass,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking.”

A product of Lakewood schools, Egger said she started getting more deeply involved with the district last year as board members crafted plans for bringing students back into classrooms. Her involvement broadened to doing what she can to help pass the levy.

“Having a positive school experience is making connections either with your friends, teachers, club advisers or coaches. We need to offer every opportunity we can for students to make that connection,” she said. “Passing the levy will allow us to do that as well as continue to provide for their education.”

Ballots returned by mail do not require a stamp but they must be postmarked no later than April 27 to count. They also can be placed in one of the county’s designated drop boxes. These are open around the clock until 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Reporter Jerry Cornfield: | @dospueblos

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