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Originally published Friday, March 18, 2011 at 3:30 PM

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Seattle City Council should propose smaller Families and Education Levy

The Seattle City Council should look out for hard-pressed families and ask voters to approve a smaller renewal and expansion of the Families and Education levy than what is currently proposed

WHEN the Seattle City Council votes Monday on whether to ask voters to expand the Families and Education Levy, council members should reject a recommendation that doubles the current levy. A smaller levy request should go before voters struggling in an ailing economy.

Mayor Mike McGinn and an advisory committee want to send a $231 million, seven-year request to voters this year, twice as much as the $116 million levy passed by voters in 2004. The increase appears tone deaf to the economic realities voters are facing.

Two smaller levy amounts were considered and rejected by the mayor and his committee. A $139 million proposal would have basically been a levy renewal plus inflation; a $182 million package offered a midrange level inadequate for the educational expansions city leaders want.

Here's a better alternative: Scrub at least $35 million in spending from the levy proposal, bring the request to voters below $200 million. Hard-pressed families who support the schools will appreciate the break on their wallets.

It is a tough but important task. Suggestions include: slowing down proposed expansions of student health services. Good primary and mental health is critical to academic achievement but work with county and state providers to help schools shoulder the financial load. Plans to expand college and career guidance beyond students academically farthest behind should be shelved. Schools could use more guidance counselors, but focus for now on helping the students who most need them.

The academic needs of Seattle Public Schools are real and deserve attention. We are not suggesting a retreat from the city's strong efforts on early learning, helping struggling students and those who are at risk of failing school or dropping out. These efforts ought to continue.

They should not be put at risk by pushing taxpayers to their limits. Arguments that the education levy only increases taxpayers' burden by $10 ignore the other targeted taxes Seattle property owners already pay for parks and human services and help for veterans.

The City Council ought to find a new levy amount that acknowledges the gap between what we all want to do and what we can afford.

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