Most Wash. school levies appear to be passing

SEATTLE (AP) - Most of the 270 school levies and bonds on this month's special election ballot in Washington state appear to be passing, based on early returns.

With a few exceptions, school levies, which require a simple majority of votes, were passing. About half of the construction bonds on the ballot were not getting the 60 percent of votes they require, in early vote returns after the mail-in election that ended Tuesday.

Bonds appear to be failing in Clarkston, Elma, Ferndale, Everett, Tenino, Lakewood, Lynden, Oakesdale, the Lake Washington School district in the suburbs east of Seattle, and the Highland School District in Yakima, according to election returns analyzed by the League of Education Voters.

Most of these bond measures were receiving more than 50 percent of votes mailed in, but state law requires them to attract 60 percent.

Lawmakers in Olympia were considering a measure that would change the amount of votes needed to approve a school bond to a simple majority, but that proposed constitutional amendment appears to be dead, according to Frank Ordway, the League of Education Voter's lobbyist.

"In order to get that out you need a two-thirds vote. It's a very heavy lift," Ordway said. Neither party holds a two-thirds majority in either house of the Legislature.

The Legislature changed the vote requirement to a simple majority for school levies in 2007. Since then, 255 levies have passed because of the change, according to an analysis of election results by the League of Education Voters.

The super-majority requirement for bond issues is not the only reason they are difficult to pass, Ordway said. Some communities require a few years of warming up the voters before they raise their own taxes to pay for school construction.

Small districts don't have the resources they need to effectively run a campaign like this, he added.

"Typically, the school staff does a lot of the campaign work. That model contributes to some bonds failing. They're school administrators, not campaign people," he said.

Ordway expects this issue will get a better audience during the 2015 Legislature, which is a budget session. That's when lawmakers will take another look at how they're going to answer the Supreme Court's school funding decision known as the McCleary decision.

Part of that Supreme Court decision called for smaller classes and putting kids in full-time kindergarten. Both initiatives require more classrooms, which require bond money to pay for construction.

The secretary of state's office says 270 of 283 measures on the February ballot were levies or bonds in 220 school districts.

Elections were held in 36 counties. The only counties without elections were Clallam, Ferry and Garfield.