Fear of losing a $48.2 million schools levy to a tougher-than-usual opposition this year has jolted the Seattle School Board president into action.

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"This levy has proven considerably more controversial than past levies and needs the full support of our education community to succeed," wrote Michael DeBell in a letter (.pdf) to the Seattle teachers' union and the education community. He took aim at concerns surrounding district policies that are being used to attack the levy. Levy opponents are particularly mad at district superintendent Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson, a bloated central administration, and a state audit that blasts the district for financial negligence. A Seattle Times editorial against the levy hasn't helped either.

"I have been working on school campaigns for 20 years and I have never seen so much opposition," DeBell told The Stranger. DeBell said that although the board has taken "significant actions" to fix the district's problems over the last three months, not many people know about it.

DeBell says the board's first P.R. move was to update its response to the state audit on the district website. A new team will monitor whether taxpayer dollars are being used correctly (no more $7,000 on farewell parties, sorry supe) and an independent auditor will keep tabs on the district's accounting and spending as well.

"There seems to be a heightened level of concern around the audit, which wasn't apparent when it was first released," says Seattle teachers union Vice President Jonathan Knapp.

Union leaders are even more surprised with the board's plans to rewrite its policies improve oversight of the superintendent and its major business functions, both of which the audit criticized. Critics of the superintendent have complained that her current relationship with the board gives her too much leeway. "Hopefully this means that the board won't be rubber-stamping her agendas anymore," Knapp says.

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DeBell's letter also announces a significant change in the district's annual budget-making process. From now on, the board will give first priority to the school budgets instead of the central administration budget.

All said, how will the levy fare? "I think the levy will still pass," DeBell says.