Why should someone like me vote for a school levy?
Editor, the VOICE:
I pay a lot of property taxes that benefit Tahoma School District but I no longer have any kids attending school, nor do I have any relatives who work for the district, so why should I vote for a school levy?
Having lived in Tahoma School District (TSD) since 1954 I have been a first-hand witness to how a successful and highly rated school district affects the entire community. Unfortunately I have also been witness to how a failing district impacts the surrounding area. Each of those situations unfolded right here in Maple Valley.
Back in the late 60’s and through most of the 70’s our district struggled to pass both Maintenance and Operations Levy’s and Capital Bonds and suffered multiple failures at the ballot box. The low point came during my senior year in 1971-72 when the buildings were so overcrowded that we had to triple shift at the high school (the building that now is known as Tahoma Elementary) and there was not enough funding available to provide books to the students. My school day consisted of 4 periods which started at 7AM and ended at 10:45, and our homework was assigned using copies made on “Ditto” machines with a set of textbooks that were kept in the classroom for reference. The limited number of busses that were available meant that the daily ride to and from school was always more than an hour on a bus with every seat filled.
The comparison between the educational environment that I experienced back then (during TSD’s “Dark Days”) and today is shocking and the overall community comparison is equally striking. Back in the 60’s and 70’s Maple Valley, along with the rest of Southeast King County, was the home to mainly blue collar workers and low value real estate. A much smaller percentage of TSD kids graduated from high school or continued on to college than do today. The Maple Valley area seemed to be targeted by King County government as the place to locate the least desirable uses, thus we became home to both the county’s Cedar Hills Landfill and the Cedar Hills Alcohol Treatment Center (which incidentally were going to be named “Maple Valley” rather than “Cedar Hills” until some local residents objected), along with numerous gravel pits and other industrial uses. There was little pride of the community and certainly no accolades like those which are common today. I remember when I went off to college that Maple Valley was seen as kind of a joke by those from the more upscale areas of the state. At the time TSD was a mess, the facilities were overcrowded and dilapidated and the staff and School Board were not winning many awards. Tax fatigue was a real thing then too and some voters were quite vocal with their criticism of TSD’s School Board and administration, which resulted in further turmoil and staff turnover. There was at least one board member resignation. When the district finally did pass a bond to relieve the overcrowding by building a new high school, the funding provided by the bond turned out to be less than was needed to complete the project, and the new building sat empty for over a year while the district scrambled to find a way to get it finished. There was even talk about merging TSD with the Kent School District at the time.
Most of us are familiar with TSD’s status today, but it’s worth mentioning that TSD ranks right the top in terms of graduation rate and offers a diverse set of educational opportunities that help create Future Ready graduates who are prepared for the next step, regardless of the field that they choose to pursue. The district is highly regarded as a great place to work and is even able to attract top talent without paying top dollar. Ask any local realtor and they will tell you that for most of the folks who have moved her in the past 20 years the main reason was TSD.
This transformation from TSD’s Dark Days to the district we enjoy today did not happen by itself, but rather is the result of years of hard work by past and present School Board members and district staff, and would not have been possible without the support of TSD’s taxpayers. The difference is DRAMATIC.
So back to my original question, without a direct stake in the district, why should I support the levy? I have seen our community evolve in many ways since the Dark Days and most of that evolution can be traced directly back to TSD. Our local economy and property values have flourished with the influx of higher educated/higher income families that now seek the area out. The recreational opportunities for our youth have multiplied many times over not only due to the facilities provided by TSD but also due to ability of a more affluent community and a broader business sector to support youth activities. There is real pride in being a resident of a community that now boasts new or recently ungraded schools throughout the district, has recent graduates that are blazing trails in all kinds of fields, is the recipient of multiple national awards for being a “best place to raise a family”, and possibly best of all, has a positive vibe and a genuine small town feel. In my view none of those things would have been possible without the product that TSD provides thanks to the generous support of its taxpayers. For those reasons I feel that my investment in TSD pays dividends that are impossible to reduce to a dollar for dollar return, but certainly justify a YES vote on the current levy proposal. Let’s not start down the path to the Dark Days again.