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Levies, bond could help out Renton schools

After all the lunches, the halls fill to capacity during the passing period to the next period at McKnight Middle School. - Charles Cortes/Renton Reporter
After all the lunches, the halls fill to capacity during the passing period to the next period at McKnight Middle School.
— image credit: Charles Cortes/Renton Reporter

The Renton School District will ask voters this winter to fill the budget gap not covered by state, federal or district funds raised from rental facility fees with two levies and one bond measure on the Feb. 14 ballot.

The measures are needed to fund everything from classroom learning materials, math instruction, software licenses, bus transportation, and safety improvements to a badly needed new middle school.

If the measures are approved, collection would begin in 2013.

The district estimates that they would cost taxpayers an additional 69 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation initially, raising the rate collected to $5.40 per $1,000. Homeowners with a home valued at $252,000 would pay a total of $1,361.

Maintenance and operations make up 30 percent of the budget and every four years the district has to ask taxpayers for a renewed commitment to funding, said Randy Matheson, district spokesperson.

This comes in the form of the Education Maintenance and Operations Replacement Levy, which was on the 2008 ballot and will expire in 2012.

A second levy is being put on the ballot that provides for math, reading and writing instruction, student assessment, teacher computer training, software licenses, computers and hardware. It’s called the Technology Levy and it is part of the district’s long-term technology plan.

On top of this, the district is asking for approval of its Building for a Lifetime of Learning School Building Improvement Bond, which would raise $97 million to provide a new middle school at the current Renton Academy site among other projects.

The academy would be moved to a different location and a new 800-student middle school would be built in its place.

“We need to create something that eliminates the overcrowding at our middle schools,” said Matheson.

Currently, McKnight Middle School is the largest in the district with about 1,400 students.

A new middle school will alleviate overcrowding at McKnight, said Matheson, and allow the district to move some families around rebalancing the district. It will take an estimated year and half to plan and build a new middle school.

The bond would also cover renovation of the pool at Lindbergh High School and improvements, upgrades and modernization of other schools.

The district gets 58 percent of their funds from state allocation based on the number of students in the district. About 11 percent of the budget is federal funds tied to certain programs; 28 percent of the budget is local money from taxpayers. The remaining 3 percent is generated by rental facility fees in the district.

The last time the maintenance and operations levy was on the ballot was 2008 and the current levy expires in 2012. The district doesn’t set aside money in its budget to construct new buildings and so has to ask for voter support to build and make renovations.

The Renton Academy site was chosen because the land is owned by the district and it is big enough to accommodate the right-sized middle school.

Right now, the district has begun community presentations, starting with reaching out to groups like Renton Rotary, Kiwanis and the Soroptimists.

Visits to neighborhood association meetings, City Council meetings and other community presentations are planned after November.

If the maintenance and operations levy does not pass the district operating budget would be reduced by approximately 30 percent and could result in program and staff cuts and adjustments to balance the budget, according to a district release.

If the bond measure is not approved, the district will not be able to build the new middle school or make renovation and construction improvements.

School building maintenance is included in the general operating budget, but funding for essential large-scale building improvements is not funded by the state.

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