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District looking at February tech levy

The Enumclaw School Board was expected to give the nod to district officials to place an $8.4 million capital facilities levy for school improvements and instructional technology on the Feb. 3 ballot at its regular meeting Monday night.

The levy, which requires a simple majority for passage, would buy Enumclaw Middle School a much-needed roof; update heating systems at EMS, Westwood Elementary School and the high school; and put technology in the hands of students in every classroom.

Superintendent Mike Nelson and School Board President Cathy Dahl-quist said the decision comes after 18 months of research. The process started with a series of community meetings at each of the district’s schools. From those meetings, district leaders created a technology audit, which led to a “wish list” which has been streamlined into the current request.

The district has set up a link through its Web site, www.enumclaw.wednet.edu, that walks voters through the process and also answers questions about the upcoming levy. The page will also include a blog for comments and discussion.

Nelson and Dahlquist said unanswered questions about growth in Black Diamond and Enumclaw and the unstable economic situation made the levy a more logical choice than a bond, which could have raised more money but would also take a 60 percent “yes” vote.

“It’s not that we don’t have the needs, but we have to be realistic,” Dahlquist said.

The district is asking voters to approve a four-year levy with collection beginning in 2010. Collection will be front-loaded to cover the more expensive construction projects right away, so the first year will collect $2.9 million at 87 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. That means the owner of a $300,000 home would pay $261 a year. By 2013, that number will be $1.2 million at a rate of 33 cents per $1,000, or $99 for the owner of a $300,000 home.

A large chunck of the levy will buy a roof for Enumclaw Middle School, which is the original from 1984. The heating and control systems at Westwood, EMS and the high school will also be replaced. District business and operations director Randy Stocker said those systems are four to seven years past their life span.

“We’re spending a lot of money keeping outdated equipment running,” Stocker said. Those systems, he noted, are also taking money away from other schools in the district that could use repairs.

The “meat and potatoes” of the budget, as district technology coordinator Chad Marlow put it, is the technology piece, which will go into every core classroom in the district. Among the purchases will be document cameras, SmartBoards, computers and mobile laptop labs with wireless connections. The levy, if passed, will also provide money to purchase the infrasture to support the technology and the money to train teachers to use it to its potential.

“There are places where we don’t actually have plug-ins in the walls,” Marlow said regarding the infrastructure part of the levy. “What we won’t have is a bunch of computers piled up in a classroom that we can’t use.”

Currently, Marlow said, few classrooms in the district, including those at the high school, have student-access computers. At the elementary level, generous PTAs have supplied most of the technology, which can cause equity issues.

In order to prepare students, whether for the next level of school or life, Marlow said, every student should have the same access to transition smoothly.

Dalquist said many kids have access to technology at home, and those that don’t should be exposed to it at school.

“When we can’t provide that in an educational scenario it’s a disservice,” Dahlquist said. “And to think that it’s not important in every classroom is not the case.”

The last time the district put a technology levy on the ballot was 19 years ago and it failed. Nelson said with funding continuing to tighten, many districts now rely on technology levies to make purchases rather than pulling money out of the general fund.

“Right now we’re using general fund money to stay current with technology,” Marlow said. “School districts like Mercer Island and Bellevue pass a tech levy every three years. They know what they’re doing and they’re doing it right.”

Reach Brenda Sexton at bsexton@courierherald.com or 360-802-8206.

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