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Originally published March 20, 2011 at 8:07 PM | Page modified March 20, 2011 at 8:07 PM

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Seattle families and education levy poised for vote

A special committee of the City Council is expected Monday to approve placing the Families and Education Levy on the November ballot.

Seattle Times staff reporter

At a recent coffee with a group of senior citizens, City Councilmember Sally Clark said the first question posed to her was from a man who didn't want "another dime" to go to the Seattle Public Schools until the district "had its house in order."

With a financial scandal looming large and an interim superintendent running the schools in place of an ousted one, the timing isn't great for the proposed $231 million Families and Education Levy.

But with the current seven-year levy to expire this year and the state cutting education funding, council members worry that withdrawing city support for the schools would only deepen the district's achievement gap and set back efforts to graduate more students prepared for work or college.

"This is nobody's ideal time frame to have any drama at the district. It distracts from where we want the focus to be — on kids and their academic achievement," Clark said.

A special committee of the council is expected Monday to approve placing the Families and Education Levy on the November ballot. The full council likely would endorse the move next week.

The measure, as proposed by Mayor Mike McGinn, is nearly double the amount of the current levy. It would cost $124 a year in 2012 for the owner of a home with an assessed value of $462,045, up from $65 a year under the $116 million levy.

The city moved quickly to support the district after the School Board removed Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson on March 2.

She and district Chief Financial and Operations Officer Don Kennedy were dismissed for failing to adequately oversee the now-defunct small-business contracting program, which spent up to $1.8 million on projects that state auditors found to be of little or no public value.

But city officials also were quick to distinguish the Families and Education Levy, which the city manages and controls, from the district's own finances. Two contracts under the current levy were canceled because the programs weren't producing the promised outcomes, said Holly Miller, the city's director of education.

City Councilmembers Clark and Tim Burgess last week took the additional step of negotiating a preliminary agreement with the school district to turn ethics and whistle-blower complaints at the district over to the city Ethics and Elections Commission.

Burgess said he was concerned voters would unfairly link the district's scandal to the proposed Families and Education Levy.

If approved by voters, the seven-year levy would fund expanded support for early education and kindergarten readiness; extra learning programs at 23 elementary schools with high poverty rates; support for struggling students transitioning from middle to high school; and academic support and career and college planning for at-risk high-school students. The levy also would continue funding for high-school health centers.

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Minority students continue to lag behind their white counterparts in Seattle schools. Just 13 percent of African-American and 24 percent of Latino students met standards in 10th-grade math, compared with 68 percent of whites, on the state's 2010 High School Proficiency Exam.

A City Council committee has been meeting since January to discuss programs the levy would fund and the associated costs.

While the full council hasn't weighed in on the $231 million proposal, several members, including Burgess, have voiced their support.

"We recognize that the request is significant, but the size of the levy matches the needs of our children," Burgess said.

Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or lthompson@seattletimes.com

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