Students line up for lunch at Shoultes Elementary School in Marysville in October, 2018. (Kevin Clark / The Herald file photo)

Students line up for lunch at Shoultes Elementary School in Marysville in October, 2018. (Kevin Clark / The Herald file photo)

Editorial: Voters can help rewrite Marysville schools story

The district has listened to voters, trimmed its levy requests and has made leadership changes.

By The Herald Editorial Board

Chris Pearson, Marysville School District’s interim superintendent, is candid about the challenge of returning to district voters for the April 26 special election, following the district’s Feb. 8 failures of an educational programs and operations levy and a technology and capital levy.

Along with Marysville, school districts in Granite Falls, Stanwood-Camano and Sultan have resubmitted levy requests to voters; and the Lakewood School District is making its first request for approval of a technology levy.

On top of a covid pandemic that has been difficult for all school districts, Marysville school officials have also faced numerous challenges, including Pearson’s interim assignment following the pending resignation of the last superintendent after a long and unexplained leave; criticism last year over its handling of threats directed at students of color; and an angry protest in August over the state’s mask and vaccine mandates for schools.

The Feb. 8 levy failure — with the two levies receiving support from just 41 percent and 44 percent of voters — prompted the district to ask what needed to be done differently, Pearson said in a recent conversation with the editorial board.

A survey, with some 1,300 responses from district parents and residents, provided feedback on district priorities, fiscal responsibility, concerns around academic performance as the pandemic ebbs and a better accounting of how past levy funds have been used.

“We’ve used that feedback to relaunch our campaign,” Pearson said, as the district returns to voters with pared-back levy requests and a better explanation of what it does and is trying to do for its more than 10,000 students.

“We’re really working hard to rewrite the Marysville story. And we’ve already started,” Pearson said. “We’ve hired a new superintendent. And we have essentially a brand new school board. … We’ve made significant changes across the leadership for the district to support improved academic performance and better fiscal responsibility.”

Recognizing the sentiment among many voters regarding property taxes, the district and its board made significant reductions from the last request and an even greater reduction from the current levy amounts that will expire at the end of the year.

To provide between $23 million to $25 million annually over the next four years, the programs and operation levy seeks a millage rate of $1.97 per $1,000 of assessed value; that’s a rate that’s 23 cents less than the Feb. 8 levy request and 53 cents less than the current levy rate. Likewise, the technology and capital levy rate has been reduced by more than half, from 60 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to 26 cents.

If both levies are adopted, a home valued at $500,000 would see a reduction of about $435 annually in taxes, compared to current levy rates.

But that reduction, Pearson said, doesn’t detract from the importance of what the levies can do in the district. The program and operation levy, he said, supports about 15 percent to 20 percent of the district’s budget and is used for a range of programs and positions that the state does not include in its basic support of schools.

Marysville, as do other school districts, takes pains to explain what changed and what didn’t with the state Legislature’s efforts to reform school funding under the McCleary mandate. While the state has taken responsibility for a larger share of school funding, it has left individual school districts to fund — through levies — “enhancements,” staff and programs that many parents and students see as necessary to the school day.

For Marysville, the program and operation levy will support the hiring of coaches and advisers for athletics, music, art and other extracurricular programs; smaller class sizes in the fourth through 12th grades; early learning programs; nurses, counselors and librarians; safety and security needs, including the salaries for two Marysville school resource police officers; programs for students with disabilities and transportation.

The reduction in the technology and capital levy, Pearson said, means that the district has kept a focus on providing internet devices for students, software and training, while pursuing other funding sources for some of the district’s facility needs. For example, the district has applied for a state grant for seismic upgrades and a roof at Totem Elementary and is considering the lease of district property to support other facility upgrades, he said.

Passage of both levies is key, Pearson said, because of what will likely happen without them.

If these levies fail, the district would be unable to make another request of voters until 2023 and would have to make numerous staff cuts that would be detrimental to students who are trying to catch up after two years of pandemic impacts. Because so much of what the district funds is invested in staff, it would mean deep across-the-board reductions, something that Pearson does not want the incoming superintendent, Dr. Zachary Robbins, to have to face as his first task when he starts in July.

The district also is counting on the levy wins as another step in “rewriting its story” for district voters, parents and students. Passage of the levies, and demonstrated stewardship of those funds, will be key in coming years, Pearson said, when the district will need to return to voters for bond requests — which must meet an even higher bar of 60 percent approval — to replace and renovate its schools, two of which are more than 70 years old.

“Rebuilding that trust, telling our story is the No. 1 priority now,” Pearson said.

Especially now, with inflation making everyone more conscious of what’s going in and out of checking accounts, it’s not an easy ask of taxpayers to agree to renew a portion of their property taxes for another four years.

The Marysville School District — and especially, its students — deserve fair consideration of its second request for passage of two vital funding sources. District officials and volunteers have reached out to voters and residents and have shown their responsiveness to that feedback by balancing the needs of students with the community’s reasonable financial support. The district is working to rebuild its reputation and cooperation with the community — including the City of Marysville and the Tulalip Tribes — and has made leadership changes that will foster that work.

Marysville voters should mark and return their ballots — with yes votes — and help as Marysville schools continue the work to rewrite their story.

April 26 special election

Ballots for the April 26 special election have been mailed to registered voters. Ballots can be mailed or returned to ballot boxes by April 26. For more voting information and a list of ballot drop box locations go to

For more information about the Marysville School District levies, go to

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