Election View: Replacement levies fund teachers, tech in Bellingham

Bellingham softball players celebrate a win in May, 2015.
Bellingham softball players celebrate a win in May, 2015. The Bellingham Herald

Bellingham Public Schools has two replacement levies on the ballot Feb. 9. The operations and technology levies are not new; they replace levies that are scheduled to expire later this year. If approved, these levies will continue to support many important initiatives, programs and efforts across our school district, including music, athletics, special education, technology and lowering class size.

We are all fortunate to live in such an engaged community. Bellingham has a strong history of support for education, and we, on behalf of our students, staff and district, are so grateful.

The Bellingham community has high expectations for our public schools, and these levies provide important opportunities for students and for the future.

In conversations I’ve had with people in our community about these levies, some have asked whether these levies provide any “extra” or unnecessary support for our schools, staff or students. I can assure you that these levies are an essential part of our basic operations. They pay for more than 25 percent of our budget. Our state legislature does not fully fund education, and these levies help bridge the gap between what the state provides and what it actually costs to educate our students. The Washington Supreme Court has found our lawmakers to be in contempt of court for not fulfilling their constitutional requirement to fully fund basic education for all students, including compensation for basic-education teachers. Until they can figure out how to fully fund education at the state level, we must use the tool available to us, local levies, to lower class size and support a variety of important programs including safety, art, music, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)-related classes and more.

Our district’s strategic plan, The Bellingham Promise, guides our work and emphasizes our community’s collective commitment to our children. We believe that all children should be loved and that every child can learn at high levels. Our collective commitment is evident in the many relationships and partnerships our school district has with a myriad of organizations, government agencies, as well as businesses and professionals. We strive to fulfill our promise with this collective support, and as the promise states, “together we achieve more than alone.”

The Bellingham Promise provides a litmus test for our current and future work. Part of our mission is to prepare our students “for the widest range of educational and vocational options to support a diversity of life choices.” We promise to develop students and graduates who are scientists, mathematicians, skilled users of technology, healthy, active individuals, critical thinkers and problem solvers, effective communicators and more. These replacement levies help us fulfill our promise to our community.

As we continue our work funded by the current technology levy, we’ve engaged our community in planning what comes next. Last fall, we had a strong cross-section of individuals from Bellingham come together to help answer two questions that would influence our levy planning: should Bellingham Public Schools pursue a one-to-one technology model for students? And if yes, then how?

The Student Technology Think Tank comprised of students, teachers, families, administrators and business leaders dove deep on this issue. This resulted in a comprehensive recommendation to get more devices in the hands of our students and teachers, especially at the secondary level. Our current technology levy proposal includes a baseline of what we’ve funded in the past (infrastructure, classroom technology, adaptive learning devices for children with special needs, staff, etc.). Based on the Think Tank’s recommendation, it also includes the one-to-one technology program.

Some students already have and use personal devices, but many do not. Providing our students with mobile technology reinforces our commitment to equity. We believe greater access to technology will provide better efficiency, organization, collaboration and possibility for our students, teachers and families. Technology is not a replacement for great teaching; it is an important tool to enhance daily learning.

The Bellingham community has high expectations for our public schools, and these levies provide important opportunities for students and for the future. Again, we are so appreciative for the community’s strong commitment we see and experience in our schools and throughout our district every day. We have more information about our levies on our website: bellinghamschools.org/levyfacts.

Thank you and please vote on Feb. 9.

This is one in a series of columns about Whatcom County school levies. Dr. Greg Baker is superintendent of the Bellingham School District. Ballots will be mailed Jan. 20 with drop boxes open from that date until 8 p.m. Feb. 9. One 49-cent stamp is required if you mail your ballot. It must be postmarked by Feb. 9.