Looks like all those nasty audit reports about the Seattle Public Schools being irresponsible with its budget didn't dissuade the public from voting for the Seattle schools levy. Not only did the public vote, they made sure that the levy passed by a huge margin last night—nearly 64 percent—clearing the way for $48.2 million which will go toward bridging the district's budget deficit, new textbooks, and parts of the new teacher's union contract.
The levy's passage seems to have taken the Seattle teachers union by surprise. "We had doubts, we were not expecting it to pass," said Seattle Education Association Vice President Jonathan Knapp, citing the economy.
"I am certainly very happy and thankful to the voters," added Seattle school board president Michael DeBell, who rushed to counter fierce criticism of the levy last month. "It's always good to get validation from the tax payers that they support the schools." DeBell said the district had assumed that given the bleak economic climate, even if the levy passed, it would be by a slim margin.
The district expects to collect $13 million from the levy during the 2011-2012 fiscal year, and the amount will go up gradually after that for the next two years.
An informal group of levy supporters gathered at the Seattle Westin yesterday evening to watch the returns along with other campaigns. "We wanted to get our own room, but it was too expensive," said Sharon Rogers of Schools First, which ran a grassroots campaign supporting the levy.
Rogers said that Schools First had been discouraged by the opposition's campaign and a Seattle Times editorial which slammed the levy. "We felt that the editorial didn't really recognize the situation of public schools in the state of Washington," she said. "I think by passing the levy, Seattle voters have put the legislature on notice that they need to fully fund public schools."
UPDATE: Levy opponent Dorothy Neville of the Committee for Responsible Education Spending said she wasn't surprised that the levy had passed. "Levies seldom fail in Seattle," she said. "But just because it passed doesn't mean all parents support the district. They like what is going on in the classrooms and want to support the kids."
Neville urged the school board to to make the budget process more transparent and involve the community.