Federal Way voters split school levy proposals | ELECTION

The six-year $60 million capital levy is intended to help rebuild the aging Federal Way High School. - Mirror file photo
The six-year $60 million capital levy is intended to help rebuild the aging Federal Way High School.
— image credit: Mirror file photo

Early results for the Feb. 14 special election show a split in the Federal Way Public Schools levy proposals.

As of Tuesday night, the Educational Programs and Operations (EPO) levy, also known as Prop. 1, was passing with 56.2 percent of the vote (7,409 votes). However, the capital projects levy, also known as Prop. 2, was failing with 55.08 percent (7,258) of voters saying no. Both proposals need only a simple majority (50 percent plus one) to pass.

Federal Way Superintendent Rob Neu said the early results are bittersweet.

"I'm very pleased that our programs and operations will be able to continue as they are currently provided," Neu told The Mirror. He is optimistic about January's state Supreme Court ruling for education funding: "We still have an eye out for legislation, but we're hoping the McCleary decision will protect education funding."

As for the capital projects levy, Neu said he will present the Federal Way School Board with options for bringing the measure back to voters in 2012. The levy is aimed primarily at rebuilding the aging Federal Way High School. Remodeling the school is the district's top priority as far as construction projects. The district has already saved $50 million for the project, which has a total estimated cost of $110 million.

"I'm disappointed that Federal Way (High School) students and staff can't begin moving forward with the design of a facility they sorely need," Neu said. "I was cautiously optimistic and hopeful it would pass, but these are tough economic times. Anytime you put these kinds of measures before the people, there are a lot of factors that weigh into people's decision."

He added: "We can't move on to our next projects until we get Federal Way High School done. That building's falling apart."

The capital levy was the only Federal Way measure on the ballot to draw public opposition. A group called Citizens For Better Federal Way Schools opposed the levy, citing the need for more public discussion on the project, among other points.

"There is nothing substantial on paper to demonstrate that Proposition 2 is ready to place before the voters," reads the opposition group's website. The $60 million levy cost "might be way more money than is needed to build a high school that fulfills the community's educational objectives. More importantly, however, is that proper planning for the new high school should come before asking for money."

King County Elections is still counting ballots from this all-mail election. Results will be updated daily at kingcounty.gov/elections. Final results will be announced Feb. 28.

The Federal Way capital projects levy was one of two measures on the special election ballot to fail. School districts from Auburn, Renton, Tukwila and Vashon Island pitched construction bonds and capital project levies to their voters. All are passing except for an Auburn bond proposal, which is falling short of a supermajority (60 percent). The other participating jurisdiction in the special election was King County Fire Protection District, which passed a construction bond.

About the levies

The EPO levy will continue what Federal Way taxpayers are already paying for the general operations of their schools. The school district seeks a $53 million levy per year for two years. The current levy, which was approved three years ago, expires in 2012. About 80 percent of this levy money goes to basic education. The levy represents 25 percent of the district's overall budget.

The six-year $60 million capital levy is intended to help rebuild the aging Federal Way High School. If the levy passes, some of the money will be earmarked to help build play structures and play areas at 19 of the district’s elementary schools. Total cost of the project is estimated at $110 million; the school district reports it already has $50 million to go toward the project.

The Feb. 14 special election for both levy proposals will cost the school district about $200,000, according to the district. The special election was necessary because teachers must be notified by May 15 if they will have a contract for the next school year, and teachers’ salaries are wrapped up in the EPO levy.

If Federal Way voters ultimately reject the capital projects levy, the district can present it to voters on one more ballot in 2012.


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