By Dwane Chappelle
Seattle Public Schools has two critical levies on the ballot on Feb. 12. I urge you to vote “yes” on both these levy renewals.
As the former proud principal of Rainier Beach High School, I know how important these levies are to the success of our students, our schools and our staff. Without these levies, we wouldn’t have the critical funds needed to pay for support staff, textbooks and supports for our most vulnerable students.
Proposition 1 – the Educational Programs and Operations levy – is not a new tax. Renewing this levy provides critical funding of day-to-day school operations. We need this levy to bridge the gap between what the state funds and what all of our students need to be successful.
For example, the state provides Seattle Public Schools with $68 million a year for special education. But in order to meet mandates and to ensure the 7,000 students who need special education services have the supports they need, the district spends $140 million a year for special education. That’s a $72 million gap, which is paid for through local voter-approved levies. Even if the state comes through with additional funds during this year’s legislative session, there’s no way they will come close to closing that yearly funding gap.
If approved, Proposition 2, the capital construction levy, is the only funding means we have to replace, renovate and modernize the schools in the district, as the state does not fully fund construction needs either. This levy will replace eight schools, including enough funding to build a new high school for Rainier Beach. We all see what a safe, modern school building means for students, families and staff. Our school buildings need to reflect the pride we feel about the teaching and learning that’s happening inside those walls.
In deciding how to prioritize which schools would be rebuilt in this cycle, the district relied on a new equity tool, ensuring that our most diverse schools would have priority for major renovations, rebuilds and repairs. In addition, Prop. 2 makes safety and security improvements at every single school, includes funding for classroom technology, and adds about 2,000 classroom seats, while removing 76 portable classrooms. This will help balance class sizes across our district, giving teachers more time to spend with students.
Racial disparities remain in our schools. We must continue to work toward elimination of the systemic academic and opportunity gaps that remain. We would lose momentum in this work if these levies are not renewed. Our schools are making progress, voting YES shows our students that we support them in their academic journey. We care that our students are in safe, welcoming school buildings. That they have the textbooks, computers and staff they need to succeed in school and one day lead this city and nation.
I hope you will join me in voting YES on these two critical levies. If you need more information, I urge you to check out www.seattleschools.org/levies
Dwane Chappell is the City of Seattle’s Director for the Department of Education and Early Learning, and served as principal of Rainier Beach High School from 2011-2016
This article originally appeared in The Seattle Medium.