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School officials celebrate voter passage of 4204

Late results turn tide

It looked bleak for supporters of Ballot Measure 4204 on election night, as the measure trailed badly -- by roughly a 53.5 percent to 46.5 percent margin. But as the votes continued to come in and be counted over the next few days, the outlook turned around, slowly but surely.

By Nov. 16, the count stood at 792,811 votes in favor of 4204, (50.47 percent); with 777,915 opposed (49.52 percent). With those results, and with relatively few ballots yet to be counted, it was clear that Ballot Measure 4204 was going to win approval.

Passage of the statewide measure removes a stringent requirement school districts have faced in recent years: To pass property tax levies that help operate local schools, a 60 percent "supermajority" vote of approval has been required.

Ballot Measure 4204 provides for approval of school district property tax levies by a simple majority vote, eliminating the "supermajority" requirement. It also eliminates any "threshold" requirements based on voter turnout in previous elections.

School district officials have generally regarded the supermajority requirement as something of a "stacked deck," and as a result were ecstatic with the apparent passage of Ballot Measure 4204.

"I was elated. It's super news," said White Salmon Valley School District Superintendent Dale Palmer. "It'll take a little bit of pressure off, but we always worry about passage of our levies. We need that money to operate."

Palmer said he believed the supermajority requirement was excessive and unnecessarily burdensome.

"With a simple majority, it's not a cakewalk, but you have a little better sense of a levy gaining passage," Palmer explained. "I'm glad the people came through."

Rick George, principal of Henkle Middle School, also was delighted with the measure's passage.

"The local levy helps us provide teachers and teacher training, books, after school program support, and many other vital needs," George said. "Folks here have always been very supportive of our schools, but having to hit 60 percent `Yes' votes has always been a big worry."

The ballot measure was rejected in most of the state's rural counties, including locally. In Klickitat County, Measure 4204 was defeated by a tally of 3,314 "No" votes, 54.59 percent; versus 2,756 "Yes" votes, 45.40 percent.

Voters in just eight of the state's 39 counties -- Jefferson, King, San Juan, Snohomish, Spokane, Thurston, Whitman, and Whatcom -- backed the measure, but that was enough to carry it to victory.

Based on the initial returns on Nov. 6, Palmer said he had not held out much hope the measure would pass.

"I actually thought it was over. If fact, I thought it was over clear until Friday (Nov. 9)," Palmer said. "Then I had a conference call with the Washington Association of School Administrators, and heard how close the vote was getting. It caught me very much by surprise."

"The apparent passage of `simple majority' for school levies is a great victory for Washington's 1 million public school students, whether they attend school in Seattle, Yakima, or Spokane," Mary Lindquist, president of the Washington Education Association, said on Nov. 14.

While greeting passage of the measure as a wonderful step, supporters made clear that they believe the state of Washington has to do more to boost funds for education.

"Funding for schools in Washington has been in a prolonged slide for many years, compared to funding in other states," explained George. "The local tax levies are not the answer for making up this funding shortfall, but they are a vital source for helping provide what our kids and our schools need."

Palmer added that it is likely the White Salmon School Board will bring a maintenance and operations levy before the school district's voter early in 2008, probably in February.

"That decision has not been made yet by the school board, but that's what we anticipate," Palmer said.

If Measure 4204 passes, it will go into effect as of Dec. 6, 2007.

"If we have a February election, this change would be in place," Palmer pointed out.


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