Students make their way through a portion of a secure gate and fence at the front of Lakewood Elementary School in March in Lakewood. Approval of a capital levy would improve security and fencing at Lakewood schools, among other projects. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald file photo)

Students make their way through a portion of a secure gate and fence at the front of Lakewood Elementary School in March in Lakewood. Approval of a capital levy would improve security and fencing at Lakewood schools, among other projects. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald file photo)

Editorial: Levies in two north county districts deserve support

Lakewood School District is seeking approval of two levies. Fire District 21 seeks a levy increase.

By The Herald Editorial Board

Voters in two north Snohomish County districts — Lakewood School District and Fire District 21 — are asked in the April 23 special election to approve levies for their continued support.

Ballots have been mailed to voters in those districts and must be returned by mail or to official drop boxes by April 23. More information is available at the Snohomish County Elections Office website at tinyurl.com/SnoCoElex.

Lakewood School District: The district, which serves more than 2,600 students in the community west of I-5 and Smokey Point, is seeking approval of two levies that failed in February with about 48 percent of support.

Peter Nigro, who has helped organize the levy campaign for the district, has deep roots in the district and Lakewood community. His father was school board president when he attended school there, graduating Lakewood High in 2003. Now he’s a parent of a student at English Crossing Elementary and helps lead its PTA.

Winning approval of the levies, Nigro said, is about basic support of the community and its children.

Lakewood “is not really attached to a town,” he said. “The school is kind of our community. That’s the center of our community and it’s important that we keep that going.”

Following the failure of its two levies in February, the campaign has focused on encouraging increased turnout and getting out the message about what the levies will fund, what the district’s needs are and how the district works as a responsible steward of taxpayer funding and its responsibilities to students.

The campaign has a new message this time out: The refinancing of bonds from 2014 that built Lakewood High School will reduce the district’s tax rate for property owners, allowing the Educational Program and Operations levy — which replaces the current levy — to set a rate that itself won’t increase the existing tax rate, helping keep it at a more constant rate. That refinancing work had not been completed prior to the February levy election.

The four-year EP&O levy would seek an estimated rate of $1.73 per $1,000 of assessed value, collecting about $7.5 million in 2025 and $8.2 million in 2028, for a total over four years of $31.5 million.

The programs levy, as outlined in recent coverage by The Herald’s Ashley Nash, would continue providing about 14 percent of the district’s $48 million annual budget, allowing it to fund two of its five nurses in the district, as well as additional staff including a school resource officer, psychologists and coaches; and provide support for extracurricular activities, classroom technology, career and technical pathway education and professional development. As well, the levy fills in the gap in funding for special education instruction between what the district spends and what the state provides. The state Legislature, in its latest session, did increase special education funding, but still not at a level that most schools must provide to those needing those services.

Without the levy funding. the district would have to begin planning cuts to staff and programs, subtracting between $3.96 million and $4.4 million from he budget beginning in 2025 if both levies are not approved.

A second levy for capital improvements and safety also is on the ballot. The four-year levy seeks an estimated rate of 87 cents per $1,000 of assessed value for 2025 up to 99 cents per $1,000 in 2028, collecting $17 million over four years. While the district has had capital levies in the past, it is not currently collecting on a capital levy. For a home assessed at $500,000, approval would add about $435 a year to district tax bills.

Lakewood is blessed with a well-appointed high school, Nigro said, but like other districts in Snohomish County, other of its schools are showing their age, including the 65-year-old Lakewood Elementary, with electrical and boiler systems of the same vintage and the 52-year-old Lakewood Middle School with an original alarm system that took 45 minutes to shut off following a recent fire drill.

“Lakewood School District does a really great job of maintaining what we have,” Nigro said, but older schools and equipment are becoming more expensive to maintain and delaying their replacement and upgrade will only cost more if again put off by another levy failure.

Among capital work planned by the district with the levy’s passage:

At Lakewood Middle School, a reconfigured cafeteria to increase capacity, improved door security, cameras and fencing; replacement of roofing, electrical equipment, communications and fire alarm systems; sidewalk repairs and Americans with Disabilities Act compliance work; and installation of more energy efficient lighting and heating.

At Lakewood, English Crossing and Cougar Creek elementary schools, replacement of an outdated boiler and HVAC, security, electrical panel, flooring, fire alarm, water heaters, lighting and other improvements.

Both levies are key to providing education that amply provides for the district’s students.

As well, the levies are necessary to protect the past investment that taxpayers have made, ensuring the schools are well maintained and deliver a rich and safe learning environment.

“The district does so much for the kids in the community. And it provides jobs for teachers and other staff that live in the community. Whether you have kids in the district or you don’t, it’s a central part of this community,” Nigro said. “It’s very vital that we keep it going.”

Snohomish County Fire District 21: The district, which serves about 8,800 residents in 70 square miles east of Arlington with two fire station in Arlington Heights and McElroy Road, is seeking approval of a Fire Protection and Emergency Medical Services levy increase.

The election would set the regular levy at $1.40 per $1,000 assessed value of property, to be assessed this year and collected in 2025. For a home assessed at $300,000, the levy would collect about $420 a year.

Since first approved in 2018 at $1.30 per $1,000, the collection rate has decreased to 92 cents, and voters have failed three subsequent requests to increase the levy.

The increase will support its response to the district, which tallies about 1,500 calls a year, 85 percent of those for medical emergencies. The levy will allow the district to hire its own paramedics, which will be a necessity as another agency currently provides paramedic services and is ending that contract as of July 1. Employing its own EMS staff will decrease reliance on outside services and allow quicker response times.

As with school levies and other taxing districts, support of the levy request for the fire district is essential to providing the life-saving services that the community depends on.

Voters in the district should recognize the work and commitment of its first responders, approve the levy and ensure its continued support.

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