The Olympia School Board has unanimously agreed to place a technology and safety replacement levy proposal before voters in February to help pay for increased student access to technology, as well as safety projects districtwide.
The board passed a resolution in October to include the technology and safety levy renewal on the February 13, 2018 Special Election ballot.
“This levy proposal reflects a continuation of our efforts to make technology accessible to all students and prepare them for success now and into the future as they move on to college and careers and become global digital citizens,” said Board Vice President Frank Wilson. “This is about equity and increasing access, while also moving us forward in the area of safety.”
The proposed levy is not a new tax. The measure on the February 2018 ballot would replace a four-year technology and safety levy approved by voters in 2014. The levy would raise an estimated $35.4 million over four years (2019-2022).
The total proposed tax rate for school levies in 2019-2022 would remain the same as or be lower than the total tax rate for 2017 school levies.
Among other things, the replacement levy would fund new and continued technology and safety initiatives including:
- Expanding the number of computers to a one-to-one model (one computer for every student) in grades 3-12, and one computer for every two students in kindergarten through grade 2. “The initiative supports a ‘blended learning’ classroom environment, where there is a balance between the time that students work on computers and the time they receive direct instruction from teachers,” said Marc Elliott, chief information officer with the school district’s Technology department.
- Purchasing enough computers for middle and high schools so each student can be assigned a portable device to take home daily.
- Continuing to update student and staff computers and other devices, including developing a cycle for replacing devices as needed.
- Expanding internet access at home. Money is budgeted to provide internet support through means such as mobile Wi-Fi “hotspots,” which are essentially compact, portable wireless access points providing internet access to mobile devices like a laptop for students from low-income families. Typical Wi-Fi hotspot venues include cafes, libraries, airports and hotels; however, the mobile technology is also possible to support students at home.
- Expanding assistive technology devices for students with special needs, including voice-recognition software and speech to text/text to speech, and providing associated staff training. Some technology tools, for example, allow students to activate single/multiple spoken word strings via touch screen to communicate. Others would allow students with learning disabilities access to academic curricula in an adapted fashion, maximizing participation in education settings and activities, said Ken Turcotte, executive director of student support.
- Installing up-to-date classroom display systems, document cameras, and video conferencing systems.
- Upgrading infrastructure, such as wireless, switches, and network security.
- Developing more digital online curriculum, thus reducing the number of books a student carries to and from school.
- Providing support and training for teachers and other staff as they integrate new technology into classrooms.
- Purchasing technological components of curriculum to support related subjects such as computer coding, robotics and digital citizenship. Plans are to expand computer coding, traditionally offered in grades 7-12, to grades 4-6. Digital citizenship lessons teach students about how to use technology in a safe, responsible, and healthy way.
- Installing a new paging and intercom system in schools throughout the district. This would ensure that students and staff are notified of an emergency more quickly and effectively.
- Updating from analog to digital radios on school buses to improve connectivity, including in far-reaching areas of the district with little to no reception. “Digital radios are critical to our ability to have constant contact with every bus, regardless of where the bus is inside the district or outside of the district,” said Jennifer Priddy, assistant superintendent of finance and operations.
- Adding an identification card system on school buses that records when students get on and off a bus; and marks each transaction by Global Positioning System (GPS).
- Updating classroom audio (microphone systems) in elementary schools.
The board voted on the replacement levy after reviewing a proposal from the district’s Technology Levy Advisory Committee and more than 1,000 survey responses from students, educators, parents and other community members who answered questions about technology and safety needs.
The committee, made up of district staff, parents, students and community members, met in September and October to examine technology and safety needs and costs before submitting its proposal for consideration.
The voter-approved 2014 technology and safety levy pays for more than half of the technology expenses in the Olympia School District (52%) and more than a third of safety-related costs (36%).
Despite news reports at the end of the 2017 Legislative session that the state will fully fund basic education beginning in 2019, analysis of the new funding indicates that about one third of the district’s technology and safety expenses will be state funded under the new system, Priddy said.
The estimated levy rate depends on the final dollar amount of assessed value of property within the school district. Based on information to date from the county assessor’s office, the projected levy rate for the proposed measure is $.87 per $1,000 of assessed valuation for collection in 2019 and 2020, $.85 cents per $1,000 in 2021, and $.89 cents per $1,000 in 2022.
With the technology and safety levy of $.87 per $1,000 of assessed value projected in 2019, the owner of a $250,000 home would pay about $18 a month, or $217 a year.
The proposed technology and safety levy tax and newly-enacted state schools’ tax, combined with the voter-approved Olympia School District school construction bonds and maintenance and operations levy, would keep tax rates constant. The total projected tax rate over the four years would be between $5.25 and $5.26 per $1,000 of assessed valuation — one cent less or equal to the $5.26 tax rate in 2017.
A new state education property tax enacted by the Legislature in 2017 to begin in 2018 will bump up the total district tax in 2018 for one year, and then the total tax will drop in 2019. This increase and then decrease is unrelated to this proposed technology and safety replacement levy, which would not start collection until 2019.
Olympia voters approved technology levies in 1994, 2000, 2006, 2010 and 2014. State law requires a simple majority (50 percent plus one) for passage of a school levy.