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Originally published Sunday, January 27, 2013 at 4:00 PM

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Editorial: ‘Yes’ on Seattle Public Schools levies — with reservations

Vote yes for two Seattle Public School levies, but the district’s academic challenges and management problems remain cause for concern.

Seattle Times Editorial

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A list of levy projects can be found at

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Ah, here it comes, and so predictably: the Seattle Times floats the discredited notion... MORE
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VOTERS who recognize that the state Legislature has failed to adequately fund public education should approve renewal of two expanded Seattle Public Schools levies. Such necessary votes do not negate strong reservations about how the district is run.

The $1.2 billion money measures on the Feb. 12 special election ballot are essential to pay for everything from textbooks to building repairs and renovations.

The Times’ recommendation in favor of the levies comes reluctantly with concerns about the district’s inconsistent leadership.

The School Board continues to struggle to work as a coherent body. New Superintendent José Banda appears unable to defuse a teacher boycott of a standardized test that he and other district leaders view as a valuable part of their assessment strategy.

Strong leadership and financial accountability have been a struggle for the district. Damning financial audits and scandals have spurred accounting improvements, but fears that other financial missteps have occurred are not misplaced.

At the root of the district’s problems is a too-quickly-revolving door of department heads and managers, exacerbated by the whims of an often fickle School Board that changes with the political winds at every election.

The district’s governance structure needs attention, which might take a change in state law. Many school districts, including New York City, operate more effectively and efficiently under the auspices of City Hall.

Until the Legislature makes good on the state Supreme Court McCleary decision requiring the state to better fund schools, the levies for Seattle are essential.

The $551.9 million three-year operations levy accounts for 26 percent of the district’s budget and funds basic education needs the state does not, including bilingual and special-education services, athletics and music programs.

The $694.9 million, six-year capital levy is part of the district’s Building Excellence long-range plan to modernize or rebuild aging schools. This levy is called BEX IV. The plan is ambitious: rebuilding or upgrading 37 schools. Enrollment went up by 1,400 students this year and is expected to soar by 7,000 students over the next decade.

The two levies will add $152 more per year — or a little less than $13 more per month — to the school portion of the tax bill on a $400,000 home.

Despite its management challenges, the district needs the financial support provided by voter-approved levies. Vote yes on Proposition No. 1, the operations levy, and Proposition No. 2, the capital levy.

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