Seattle schools billion dollar levy a tough sell to taxpayers

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by MEG COYLE / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @MegCoyleKING

KING5.com

Posted on April 30, 2012 at 6:46 PM

Updated Monday, Apr 30 at 7:09 PM

What would you do with a billion dollars? Seattle Public Schools has some ideas, and it’s counting on you to come up with the cash.

The district hopes to pass two levies that together could top a billion dollars, a record high. Add to that issues of mistrust and mismanagement and board members acknowledge it will be a tough sell.

Parent Karen Kaizuka would love to see more money for education.

“Well, if you gave it to me, I could effectively dole it out!” she said.

 Kaizuka’s son has autism, special needs she says aren’t being met by Seattle Public Schools.

“Until they come up with a plan on how they’re going to efficiently spend that money, I can’t understand asking for a dime, to be honest," she said.

Such is the dilemma for the district, which finds itself in a budgetary bind the school board says only tax dollars can undo -- a lot of tax dollars.

Monday came the announcement of the new superintendent and the new push for more than a billion dollars. Most of that money would build, rebuild, and re-open schools only shuttered a few years ago due to low enrollment.

Today, schools like View Ridge Elementary are bursting at the seams, while family budgets are not.

“Nobody wins. Students don’t win, teachers don’t win, it’s frustrating,” said parent Heidi Bond.

The school board insists once struggling schools are making important strides.

“Our test scores are rising, schools have risen in their ratings and the energy in the community is very optimistic. But we also have huge capacity issues in this district, which is front and center. The community is aware of that,” said Seattle School Board member Marty McLaren.

Capacity issues and money issues, including firings over a finacial scandal under former Superintendent Maria Goodloe Johnson, has Karen Kaizuka and other concerned parents skeptical.

"It’s hard because we need more money, but they haven’t managed the money they have in a responsible way,” said Kaizuka.

So here’s the breakdown: A $700 million construction levy over six years along with a separate $500 million renewal of the operations levy for a total of $1.2 billion.

The board is still finalizing its project list, so that number could change between now and next February when it would on the ballot.

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