Voters approve school levies in a dozen Pierce districts

School levies in a dozen districts got a thumbs-up from Pierce County voters Tuesday, early election returns showed.

In Tacoma, voters said yes to a levy that will generate $86 million in each of the next four years, beginning with property tax collections in 2015. They also approved funding for technology — $10 million annually to be collected over the same four-year period.

“I am so grateful to the Tacoma community, that they continue to wrap their arms around all Tacoma students,” said Superintendent Carla Santorno. She praised voters’ willingness to support schools with their tax dollars, as well as the city’s readiness to roll up its sleeves and volunteer with students in the schools.

In Puyallup, where a bond measure for school improvements failed at the polls last year, voters approved both a four-year levy for day-to-day operations and a six-year levy that will pay for both technology upgrades and capital improvements, such as roof repairs, heating and plumbing upgrades, and security systems.

The operations levy will generate between $49.5 million and $54.1 million a year over four years, beginning with collections in 2015. The capital/technology levy will raise between $7 million and $9 million a year over six years, also beginning with 2015 tax collections.

Campaign co-chairwoman Kathy Horton said Tuesday’s returns prove that people in Puyallup “want to invest in our children.” And Puyallup Superintendent Tim Yeomans called the positive returns “a step forward for our whole community.”

In the smaller Franklin Pierce School District, spokesman Willie Painter said the favorable levy votes can be viewed as one measurement of how the community views its schools. He said the district is on a path toward improvement.

“I hope voters have taken notice that Franklin Pierce is doing great work and that they need to continue supporting that great work,” he said.

Although levies won the majority of votes in districts across the county, turnout was low, with only about one-third or fewer voters in each school district returning ballots as of early Tuesday.

A dozen districts — including the county’s three largest — Tacoma, Puyallup and Bethel — asked voters to continue supporting local levies that pay for nearly one-quarter of each district’s day-to-day operations.

All three also asked voters to approve separate levies aimed at upgrading technology.

The story was much the same in many smaller school districts, including Dieringer, Sumner, University Place and White River. Those districts also sought voter support for both operations and technology levies.

The Eatonville, Fife, Orting and Steilacoom districts asked only for operations levies.

In the Auburn School District, which is mainly in King County but has a chunk of territory in Pierce County, school officials sought only a technology levy.

Neither the Peninsula School District in Gig Harbor nor the Clover Park School District in Lakewood had tax measures on the ballot Tuesday.

Nervous school districts had eyed opposition statements in the county voters’ pamphlet with apprehension before the election.

Opponents argued that school districts could submit lower levies to voters if they did a better job tightening budgets. They criticized teachers unions for demanding higher wages. And they also wondered whether school districts needed to ask for four-year levies, with more state money supposedly coming their way in the wake of the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision. The court has ordered the Legislature to funnel more state dollars toward schools to uphold the state’s constitutional mandate for ample funding for education.

But school officials say that future dollars headed their way through McCleary will merely take them back to where they were a decade or so ago, before school funding took a nosedive.