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Originally published January 22, 2013 at 4:22 PM | Page modified February 11, 2013 at 10:37 AM

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Op-ed: Renew Seattle school levies Propositions 1 and 2

On Feb. 12, Seattle voters have the opportunity to continue the progress in our public schools by renewing two critically important Seattle Public Schools levies.

Special to The Seattle Times

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WE all know that an educated citizenry is a cornerstone of democracy and of a productive civic life. The building of a great city has at its foundation a network of great public schools.

On Feb. 12,Seattle voters have the opportunity to continue the progress in our public schools by renewing two critically important Seattle Public Schools levies. Propositions 1 and 2 will impact the education of almost 50,000 children currently in Seattle Public Schools and more than 7,000 additional kids expected to enroll in our city’s growing schools over the next decade.

Both measures renew expiring levies that are critical to the functioning of our public school system. We should invest in our citizenry and future by voting yes to renew both levies.

Both Proposition 1, which would raise $552 million over three years, and Proposition 2, which would raise $695 million over six years, are renewals of expiring levies. They are not new taxes. The total additional cost of both levies compared with the expiring levies for the owner of an average $400,000 home is about $152 per year, or less than $13 a month.

Proposition 1 renews an Operations Levy that provides every school with money to pay for day-to-day education needs that are inadequately funded by the state. The Operations Levy provides about 26 percent of the funds needed to operate Seattle’s public schools.

Loss of these funds would be devastating to basic educational needs, including teachers, teacher training, instructional assistants, textbooks, classroom supplies, bilingual and special-education services, bus transportation and student activities such as athletics, arts and extracurricular activities.

For instance, the Operations Levy pays for the sixth period in our high schools, which provides essential credits for graduation and college acceptance. At a time when we are striving to provide a more rigorous education so our children can compete in the global economy, it is hard to imagine taking away funding that supports their ability to get into and succeed in college.

Proposition 2 renews Seattle Public Schools’ major Capital Levy, known as Building Excellence or BEX, which provides safe and healthy learning environments for our children.

The Capital Levy would provide essential funding to maintain and improve aging existing schools, provide earthquake safety upgrades at 37 schools, and build and renovate schools in growing neighborhoods.

More than half of Seattle’s public school buildings are over 50 years old. The expiring Capital Levy replaced or renovated seven schools, and each one of those projects was completed on time and within budget. But more work needs to be done.

The renewal of the Capital Levy would replace and modernize old, worn-out buildings, reduce the backlog of major maintenance needs by approximately 22 percent, upgrade seismic and other safety systems, and provide technology upgrades so wireless Internet access is available in every school.

The Capital Levy also helps meet the growing demand for public education in Seattle. Vibrant public schools are part of what makes Seattle a great place to live and raise a family.

Families are increasingly choosing to live in Seattle and to send their children to Seattle Public Schools. This school year alone, enrollment in our city’s schools increased by 1,400 students — the equivalent of about three elementary schools.

Major enrollment increases in Seattle’s public schools are expected to continue, with 7,000 additional students expected in the next decade. Some schools are already experiencing capacity crunches. We need to act now to prepare for the future. We the voters need to provide the funds to build the quality, permanent classrooms our students need and deserve.

A strong public school system is essential to sustain the economic, cultural and social health and vitality of Seattle. There is no more important investment we can make than in our children.

Please vote yes on Propositions 1 and 2 to renew our commitment to Seattle’s schoolchildren.

Greg Wong is an attorney at Pacifica Law Group and president of Schools First, a nonprofit coalition working to pass Seattle’s school levies. He has three children in Seattle Public Schools.

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