News

Enumclaw celebrates voter support

But White River left reeling from defeat of levy, bond issue

By Brenda Sexton

The Courier-Herald

While school officials and levy chairmen are celebrating in Enumclaw, down the road in the White River School District they're still scratching their heads trying to figure out where their election unraveled.

“I'm a little bit dismayed,” White River levy and bond chairman Carolyn Norris said. “I'm kind of stunned at that the lack of voter interest at a issue so important to the community.”

White River was asking voters to renew its four-year maintenance and operation levy which helps keep class sizes small and pays for secretaries, classroom assistants and custodians, special education, instructional materials, transportation, counseling and nursing services, athletic and music programs and more.

At the same time, the district asked voters to support a $6.9 million bond that would have covered seating at the White River High stadium and provided technology upgrades around the district.

Voters vetoed both during the Feb. 7 special election. The levy garnered a mere 53.03 percent, while needing 60 percent support for passage. The bond drew even less support - a 37.81 percent “yes” vote, meaning spectators will sit in the rain and cheer the Hornets at football, soccer and track contests.

White River did have an opposition group, but it kept a rather low profile.

The levy was slated for $7 million the first year and would gradually grow to $8.2 million in the final year, 2010. The rate to property owners, however, was expected to remain the same, $3.49 per $1,000 of assessed value, or become smaller as more people moved into the area to share the tax burden.

The added cost of the bond would have been 21 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

“I'm sure the bond had something to do with it, obviously by the numbers,” Norris said, reflecting on the failure of the levy. The bond also needed a 60 percent approval rating. She said a bond usually brings more voters to the poll, but not in this instance.

“Our numbers are down from the last election and I think that makes a difference,” Norris said. According to information presented at the White River School Board regular meeting Feb. 8, voter turnout was down about 700.

“There were some trends showing up, especially in Pierce County, where five of seven districts that ran levies and bonds together failed both,” Superintendent Tom Lockyer said.

Lockyer applauded those in the district for their effort at getting the word out. He said he's received a number of e-mails and phone calls with suggestions for next time.

“Applaud those valiant folks on the streets. It was rewarding to see that support regardless of the outcome,” Lockyer said.

The district is planning a “next time,” likely in April. With the levy making up 17 percent of the district's budget, leaders say it can't be let go. It costs the district between $15,000 and $40,000 per election to put an issue on the ballot. Several groups will be examining the situation and making recommendations, Lockyer noted.

“More than likely at first blush, and this is my perspective, we will jettison the bond. The community clearly didn't support it,” Lockyer said.

“I think we need to reach more voters,” Norris said. She said the committee, after performing some research, concentrated on rallying the “yes” votes with an emphasis on elementary school moms.

“We concentrated on getting our parents out. It wasn't enough this time. I don't know why. We'll have to cast a wider net,” she said. “I have confidence the community will rethink.”

Enumclaw

“I think it's looking good,” said Enumclaw 4rkids Levy Committee chairman Bryan Garton. Even with 61.3 percent of the vote favoring the levy the morning after the election, he wasn't ready to say it was a done deal.

“I'm very happy, but not confident,” he said.

But the district was pleased.

“We feel very blessed to have the community support the levy,” Assistant Superintendent Mike Nelson said. He said his heart goes out to those districts who did not pass their levies. With the passage of the levy, Nelson said, the district can concentrate on the students.

Although by Friday the numbers had risen to 62.22 percent, Garton said the initial trend on absentees was a bit troubling, but by 10 p.m. election night the group of supporters gathered with him were ecstatic.

Garton attributed the levy passage to the committee's door-to-door effort through the community's neighborhoods.

“Canvassing was a huge piece - knocking on doors and talking to people,” he said.

The committee billed its measure as a “replacement” levy, making up approximately 19 percent of its budget.

Leaning on the statement “levies are for learning” this levy will pay for continued operation and maintenance of the schools. The levy pays part or all of the cost of supplies, materials, books, equipment, utilities, insurance, transportation, special education, technology, athletics, activities and more. Without the levy, staff and programs would be reduced by almost one-fifth.

The levy will replace the current four-year levy that expires in 2006. Also a four-year proposal, the district is set to collect a little more than $7.7 million the first year and $8.9 million by the fourth year.

The levy is expected to cost taxpayers $2.96 per $1,000 of assessed property value. That would mean, for example, the owner of a $250,000 home would pay $740 a year.

Brenda Sexton can be reached at bsexton@courierherald.com.

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