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Monday, November 12, 2007

School Levies: The Good News & The Bad News

posted by on November 12 at 16:33 PM

It’s true, 4204, the simple majority for school levies, might actually pass.

Currently, the measure is about 1,036 votes behind. There are something like 58,000 votes still left to count in King County, where the measure is up 58-41 and where the spread on each successive batch keeps breaking more heavily in favor of the measure. King County will announce its next count tomorrow at 4:30pm.

Additionally, while the measure remains behind in other counties, the deficit is generally shrinking with each successive return. In Pierce County, for example, 4204 was losing with 44.9 percent after the first returns. However, with successive batches in isolation coming in at 45.3, 46.6, 48.7, 49.9, and the latest batch actually ahead 50.3, the measure has ticked up to 46.7 percent overall. Counts like that can’t hurt.

There’s a sense that squeaking out a victory here will change the “take away” from last week’s election. Currently, the conventional wisdom is that the GOP scored a bit of vengeance on Tuesday: Yes to a rainy day fund (a GOP idea, coopted by the Dems last session and sent to the voters); No new taxes for transportation; Yes to Tim Eyman’s no new taxes without a two-thirds vote; Republican Dan Satterberg over Democrat Bill Sherman for KC Prosecutor; and again, the No on the simple majority for school levies.

I’m not convinced that eking out a win on school levies is significant. Nor am I much convinced that last Tuesday was a harbinger for a GOP renaissance. With a decisive win in a fight between two competing core ideologies from each party —consumer protection vs. the magic of the free market—the trial lawyers walloped the insurance industry, 56-43 (Referendum 67).

As to the significance of the school levy issue: Shrug. We endorsed it, but I can’t say we we’re chilling the champagne about it. It’s not like school levies have much of a problem passing around here anyway. And, as SECB member Annie Wagner pointed out during our deliberations, the levies are just a way of helping the state abdicate its fucking responsibility (Annie has such a juvenile vocabulary) to fund schools. So yeah, go go go you Democrats.

RSS icon Comments


Where's the bad news, exactly?

Posted by Nat | November 12, 2007 4:37 PM

Josh--remember it is small school districts around the state facing large numbers of immigrants that struggle to pass levies--not Seattle. And they suffer most with a failed levy.

And Annie is correct that the state abdicates its responsibility to fund schools. But they abdicate their responsibility to fund most things in this state and to provide us with a decent tax structure--so the point is rather useless. What does Annie suggest? We punish the kids to make a point?

Posted by tiptoe tommy | November 12, 2007 4:52 PM

We should make the Air Force hold a bake sale the next time they want to build a bomber.

Posted by six shooter | November 12, 2007 5:16 PM

In theory we shouldn't need local school levies for basic funding. The state should pay for that. However, that's obviously not the case, and schools need funding now, not in some magical happy future when the state government actually funds all the schools like it's supposed to. This is a good way to get that going while waiting for a lawsuit against the state (anyone?) to get the legislature back on track.

Posted by Greg | November 12, 2007 5:27 PM

The outcome of the election definitely was favorable to Republicans, there's no spinning that fact away (and I'm definitely NOT a fan of the GOP). The question is instead "why did that happen?" I'd have to guess that their voters were more motivated than ours - the state party did little to mobilize its base and its GOTV operations for the tax proposals, whereas WA Republicans are always happy to show up to fight taxes.

There were no major races on the ballot - not the state legislature, not the King County Executive, not US federal offices. And the highest profile issue, Prop 1, saw Democratic voters split on the matter, with a majority backing it and a smaller but vocal minority opposing it.

To me the lesson is never, ever put anything important on a ballot that isn't happening in an even-numbered year. Well, that and the state Democrats need to get their act together. Being AWOL on an election is no longer a possibility.

Posted by greenlake | November 12, 2007 5:31 PM

I'm glad the tide is turning on this one. I don't think school levies do as well, even western wa, as people might think. I've voted for lots of levies in various jurisdictions which ended up failing despite going well into the 55-58% range. In this day and age where a 55 or 56% vote is seen as a 'trouncing', it makes no sense to hold school districts hostage to a 60% majority.

Posted by laterite | November 12, 2007 5:45 PM

When I was growing up in Gig Harbor, I vividly remember several school levies failing (even while getting majorities) and the school getting noticeably worse as a result. The first thing to get cut was custodial service, so our classrooms got pretty gross pretty fast. I realize that this may not be a big problem "around here" (Seattle itself, I guess you mean?) but it matters a lot to a lot of kids around the state.

And certainly the state is abdicating its responsibility for school funding by forcing districts to rely on these levies, but the long-term solution to that is electing better Democrats (note that I'm not saying "more Democrats") to the leg. Meanwhile, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this one pulls it out in the end.

Posted by lorax | November 12, 2007 7:52 PM

There seems to be a fundamental misconception here about the relationship between the levy pass threshold and the levy failure rate. Raising or lowering the levy pass threshold will not have much effect on the levy failure rate. That's because levy authors taylor the size of the levy to the amount they belive that whatever percentage of voters is required to pass it will be willing to pay. The levy failure rate (which is less than 10%) represents the fraction of the time that levy authors miscalculated. Lowering the levy pass threshold will increase the size of levies, but since it won't make levy authors any smarter, it won't decrease the levy failure rate.

Posted by David Wright | November 12, 2007 9:16 PM

@8 - That is the dumbest thing I've ever heard.

Posted by Soupytwist | November 12, 2007 9:24 PM


Sometimes you are a great writer, but sometimes your provincialism, in the form of clearly never leaving the city limits except for some "here's what they think/do in the sticks", is breathtaking.

"It’s not like school levies have much of a problem passing around here anyway."

Tell that to the parent in the Snoqualmie (Snoqualmie/North Bend) school district. The last TWO levies have failed. As a result they're totally unable to respond to the rapid growth that's happened out there.

Your lukewarm attitude toward this incredibly important measure is really disappointing.

Posted by Big Sven | November 12, 2007 10:47 PM

"Shrug" - I hope you are kidding! '

Levy funds account for 16% of statewide education funding - 24% in Seattle. That's nearly ONE quarter of the Seattle School District operating budget. These are precious funds.

And - you are WRONG about levies 'always passing.' In 1996 there was a levy failure in Seattle where the levy received 58% of the vote. Last year Vadar SD had a double levy failure - and guess what? It closed. There have been 171 levy failures since 2000 - nearly all receiving over 50% of the vote.

So - do not shrug! These are precious funds - for a precious education system serving all of our kids.

OH - and yes, the levy problem is a small slice of the larger education funding problem in this state. In case you didn't notice, Olympia can't print money. Every little bit helps. When school advocates press forward on other solutions, I hope you will stand up and speak up rather than standing by and shrugging your shoulders at the problems facing our education and kids in this state.

Posted by school supporter | November 12, 2007 10:54 PM

I'm a huge supporter of public schools, vote yes on every proposal, and support getting rid of the supermajority requirement. BUT I don't think schools levees are a case of the state "abdicating it's responsibility" to education, at least when it's a capital levy.

I believe that a majority - a simple majority, but still a majority - should approve school funding, because I think a community should be invested in its schools.

Having a community say "yes, we need to build a new high school" means the people of the community have to take responsibility for that new school. If it were just up to someone in Olympia, it would be yet another case of people abdicating THEIR responsibility to their community, and then blaming Oly when things weren't they way they want them to be.

Even operational levees make sense, to a point, as it again makes the community take a part, and take responsibility, for their schools.

Call me naive, but that's the way it works back in Iowa, and if there's one thing you can say for Iowa, it's that they have good, well-funded public schools, with a lot of civic involvement. They also used to have ridiculously affordable public colleges and universities, but that might have changed by now.

Posted by catalina vel-duray | November 12, 2007 11:24 PM

I've never understood how supermajorities for ANYTHING can be constitutional. The whole thing with a supermajority is it hands over control of the agenda to the minority, which is a basic violation of the whole principle of one person-one vote.

If we're going to require a supermajority for anything, it ought to be ill-written, ill-conceived harebrained initiatives.

Posted by Geni | November 13, 2007 12:18 PM

You seem like a reasonably smart guy, Josh, but your lack of understanding of public education issues (including school board politics) is pretty breath-taking.

the commenters here have it exactly right (except 8 - that I don't get).

I have a suggestion - how about spending the time between now and the next board elections (2009) going to board meetings, talking to people at League of Education Voters, and paying attention to public education issues in Seattle, so you can give some informed commentary and recommendations in that election? That would be great.

Posted by come on, josh | November 14, 2007 7:42 AM

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