School district presses ahead with levy plan

Published on Wed, Nov 30, 2011 by Pat Grubb

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Borderite running back Mario Gobbato was recognized during Monday’s school board meeting for his record-breaking season. Coach Jay Dodd stands next to Gobbato. Photo by Pat Grubb.

Blaine school district voters will be asked to approve two tax measures on the special February 14 school election. In a quick 35-second vote, school board directors unanimously approved adding a $3 million capital projects bond initiative alongside the regular maintenance and operations (M&O) levy. The action took place at the board’s regular meeting November 28.

The M&O levy represents 24 percent of the day-to-day operating costs of the district and replaces the existing levy.

“This levy is absolutely critical for maintaining our programs,” district superintendent Ron Spanjer told the board.

According to the district, the levy funds staff and support services as well as programs such as drama, music, athletics and student activities. The loss of M&O funds would require drastic cutting of the district’s programs.

The M&O levy would be effective for budget years 2013 through 2016. Currently, the district’s levy rate is the lowest in the county at $1.39 per $1,000 assessed value. Bellingham’s school district is the next closest at $2.30 per $1,000 while Nooksack’s levy hits the high of $3.40 per $1,000. Excluding Blaine, the average M&O levy in Whatcom County school districts is $2.83 per $1,000. If approved, Blaine’s levy would rise to $1.62 per $1,000 in 2013, increasing to $1.68 for 2016.

The measure requires a simple majority to pass. The capital projects bond, on the other hand, requires a supermajority or 60 percent yes votes to succeed. The capital bond request being offered to voters is drastically reduced from the previous $32 million bond request that failed in April by less than 1 percent of the votes. The board pared the bond initiative down to $3 million that would be used to fund only the most-needed upgrades to school facilities. Approximately $2.4 million will be used to upgrade the science facilities from one lab room to six. The remaining funds will be used for special education, security, heating and lighting upgrades.

Regardless of the success of the two measures, the district is still faced with a daunting financial picture. Governor Chrids Gregoire proposed major new cuts to the education budget this week that will lead to cuts in state school districts.

“We are faced with an unprecedented five years of budget cuts,” Spanjer reminded the board.

“Pretty soon you’ll start seeing a conversation in the media about a shorter school year, increased class sizes and more. Pretty much everything outside of basic education has been cut. The only significant amount of funding left outside of basic education is equalization payments,” Spanjer said, adding, “If districts lose this money, it will have serious questions of equity.”

Equalization payments are distributed by the state to poorer districts with taxes raised in richer districts in order to provide equivalent education throughout the state. Blaine does not qualify for the payments while Nooksack receives nearly $1 million annually.

“These are all ‘what-ifs’ and ‘maybes’ and we won’t know until the legislature and the governor make their decision,” said board chair Charles Gibson, referencing the district’s annual dilemma of making tough budget decisions without knowing how much to cut.

In other district news, Blaine Middle School was formally recognized as a “School of Distinction.” Dr. Jerry Jenkins, Educational Service District superintendent, presented the award to middle school representatives. The school is one of 99 others in the state, all of which are in the top 5 percent of academic performance gains over a five-year period of time.

Four students were also recognized by the board for their athletic accomplishments. Kiersten Sigfussen, Tom Bradley and Eddie Fontes recently competed in the state cross-country completion, coached by Carey Bacon. Additionally, Mario Gobbato was presented with a football award after completing an award-winning, record-breaking season as running back. Jay Dodd is the coach of the Blaine Borderite football team.