Kent community gathers at Rec Center, discusses school operating levy

Katie Hilbert

Give and take. That’s how one attendant described last night’s meeting regarding the 6.9-mill Kent City Schools operating levy that will appear on the May 2 ballot. About 15 community members gathered in the gym at the Kent Recreation Center to listen to a presentation about the levy and to ask questions.

John Thomas, one of the board members of Thomas Anderson Development Corporation, said he felt the meeting was one of the best give-and-take public forums he’s ever witnessed. He said he felt the board members were candid.

“The community appreciates them being here tonight,” he said.

Thomas Anderson Development Corporation organized the meeting. Doria Daniels, board chairwoman of the corporation, said she felt the meeting went well because people asked difficult questions.

“This was not a rubber stamp meeting,” she said.

Superintendent Marc Crail and Veronica Motley, the principal at Walls Elementary and the director of student services for the school district, began the presentation with a PowerPoint presentation that detailed levy facts and figures.

Crail said the citizens of Kent have a “remarkable record” of supporting levies, but he voiced his concern about future funding. He explained that the school district is running out of money and must ask for help.

“We’re trying to muster as much help as we possibly can,” he said.

He also said the 6.9-mill levy is the lowest Kent School levy request in about 20 years. It will generate $3.3 million each year.

He told audience members the school district has implemented a variety of budget-cutting strategies, such as an energy efficiency program. He said the district has reduced costs by about $5 million.

Motley said the school district will not receive an increase in funding from the state during the next two years. She also said the district currently gets 40 percent of its operating funds from the state.

Crail said if passed, the levy will cost the owner of the average $100,000 home $17.61 a month, $4.06 a week or $0.58 a day.

Motley explained what the money will be used for: improvements to technology, keeping class sizes reasonable, building upkeep, purchasing textbooks and other learning materials and maintaining competitive salaries so the district can retain quality teachers.

After the presentation, audience members were encouraged to ask questions.

One audience member wanted to know why the school board was asking for so much money, if they had saved $5 million from budget cuts.

Crail explained that if they had not made the cuts they made, the amount of the levy would probably be a few mills higher. He said it is the school district’s job to provide for students, and he said he is asking the voters to carefully consider the facts.

Daniels said she wanted Crail to explain what the worst case scenario would be if the levy does not pass.

“I want you to give the ugliest picture you can give,” she said.

Crail said the district would probably reduce staff as much as possible and look for programs to cut.

“We’re not going to cut out second grade,” he said with a smile, but explained that they would look for things they could cut.

For example, he said cuts could include a pay-to-play program for athletes. He also said class sizes could go up.

After the meeting’s conclusion, Crail said he appreciated the fact that people took a “chunk” out of their evening to attend the nearly two-hour meeting.

“All we can ask for is people to be well-informed,” he said.

Contact public affairs reporter Katie Hilbert at [email protected]