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Originally published March 21, 2011 at 8:51 PM | Page modified March 22, 2011 at 12:05 PM

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Seattle's $231M education levy takes step forward

A special committee of the Seattle City Council unanimously approved placing a $231 million Families and Education Levy on the November ballot. The final council vote is scheduled for Monday.

Seattle Times staff reporter

A special committee of the Seattle City Council on Monday unanimously approved placing a $231 million Families and Education Levy on the November ballot.

Council members said they were concerned about asking voters to support a large levy in tough economic times and as the Seattle School District regroups after a financial scandal and the dismissal of its superintendent.

But all nine council members said they were ultimately persuaded to support the levy amount because of the value of strong schools to children and the city.

"This levy is not a slam dunk," said Councilmember Sally Clark before the vote. But, she added, "We have a city that cares about schools, families who are hungry for great classrooms and a business community that talks about the challenges they face finding great people who are homegrown. Given the demand in our communities, the $231 million package is where we need to be."

The proposed seven-year levy — double the amount of the levy expiring this year would cost $124 per year for the owner of a home with the average assessed value of $462,045. The final council vote is scheduled for Monday.

Interim Superintendent Susan Enfield made a strongly worded presentation to the City Council, promising to rebuild public trust in the district and to restructure the central office to "work in service for schools."

"I am painfully aware that recent events in Seattle Public Schools have shaken public confidence," she said.

Enfield pledged to provide strong support for teachers, work collaboratively with their union, hold principals to high performance standards and to create a "culture of professionalism" throughout the district. She said the status quo is not acceptable, but to move beyond the status-quo will take "significant resources," including the funding provided by the proposed levy.

Almost half the money in the levy would go to early education, school readiness and elementary schools, where research shows the most impact can be made, said Holly Miller, director of the city Office for Education.

She said the remaining funds would go to support struggling students in middle and high school, college and career preparation and counseling, and middle- and high-school health clinics.

Several council members noted that the levy money is controlled and administered by the city of Seattle, not the school district, and awarded through competitive, performance-based contracts.

Councilmember Tim Burgess said a low-income student entering kindergarten in the district has a 50-50 chance of reading at grade level by the third grade, a 60 percent chance of graduating on time, and a less than 50 percent chance of graduating if he or she fails one core class in middle school.

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The common denominator for struggling students, he said, is poverty.

In determining the levy amount, Burgess said, the levy advisory committee set a goal that every child in every school in every neighborhood reach his or her academic potential.

"We are embracing all of them," he said. "It's what our city should be known for."

Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305

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