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Originally published February 12, 2013 at 8:56 PM | Page modified February 12, 2013 at 10:40 PM

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Seattle voters back two school levies

Two Seattle school levies passed in Tuesday’s special election, maintaining a decadelong record of ballot-box success for the city’s school district.

Seattle Times education reporter

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Two Seattle school levies passed Tuesday with very strong voter support, ensuring that the district will maintain a decadelong record of ballot-box success.

The three-year, $552 million operations levy was leading with 74 percent of the vote and the $695 million capital levy was ahead with nearly 72 percent.

“What wonderful, wonderful results,” Seattle School Superintendent José Banda told levy supporters as the results were announced.

Together, the two levies would raise a total of $1.25 billion for the school district, the largest public-school request in city history.

The King County Elections Office had counted about 108,000 votes as of Tuesday evening, and it expected to receive an additional 45,500 at most.

The overwhelming percentages in Tuesday’s tally show that Seattle voters continue to support the school district even through two financial scandals and, in the past two years, a nearly complete turnover of top district leadership. Since 1998, operations and capital levies have passed with at least two-thirds of the vote.

Both of the levies are largely renewals of existing measures. Because they are school levies, they needed a simple majority to pass. School bonds, which districts sometimes use for school construction, require 60 percent approval.

With their passage, owners of a $400,000 home will pay about $1,150 a year in local school taxes, up from about $1,000 now.

Groups throughout the city supported both measures. No organized opposition emerged for the operations levy, which provides about one-quarter of the district’s general fund each year. A small group formed to formally oppose the capital levy, but it didn’t have the money to run a big campaign.

Still, the projects proposed by the capital levy were hotly debated in schools circles as the district tried to balance the need to repair aging buildings and to ease overcrowding, the result of an enrollment boom district officials failed to anticipate.

Greg Wong, president of the Schools First levy campaign committee, said he was cautiously optimistic as Election Day approached.

“The voters took a hard look at the issues and decided to support our kids,” he said.

Some longtime school supporters said they planned to vote against the capital levy because they objected to plans to build a second school on the grounds of Thornton Creek Elementary in Northeast Seattle. The second school would cover much-used sports fields and open space. Other critics objected to the proposal to build six elementary schools that would be among the largest elementary-school buildings in the state.

The three-year operating levy, Proposition 1, is similar to measures in most school districts. These supplement the money districts receive from the state, which the Washington Supreme Court has ruled inadequate to provide the kind of education that the state’s constitution requires. Starting in 1998, Seattle has now passed seven straight operations levies on the first try.

The capital levy, Proposition 2, is one of a series of construction measures that the district has been placing on the ballot every three years.

With its passage, the district plans to do major renovations of nine schools, and build or rebuild eight schools, including the six large elementaries. The district also has said it will provide wireless access for every school, update middle-school science labs and improve earthquake protection at 37 buildings.

The capital levy is the sixth straight victory of its kind since 1998. The last time a construction levy or bond measure failed was in the mid-1990s, when voters turned down four construction proposals before finally passing a $330 million levy in February 1995. A smaller technology levy also failed in 1996.

Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or lshaw@seattletimes.com.

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