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Monday, January 16, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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"Basics" group fights Bellevue school levy

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

Bellevue School District levies


Maintenance-and-operations levy: The $136 million request represents 21 percent of the district's operating budget and would renew a similar levy that will expire at the end of 2006. The levy fills the gaps between state funding and school needs by providing money for more teachers, textbooks, classroom materials, teacher training, gifted and special-education programs, and extracurricular programs.

Technology levy: The $51 million request would provide funding for technology in classrooms, including interactive whiteboards and document cameras, staff training, replacement computers, software and improving communications between parents and teachers.

Tax rate: If both levies pass, property owners would pay about $2.30 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. Currently, the average tax rate that Bellevue property owners pay is $2.22 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

For more information: www.bsd405.org/

Computers are overrated, classroom technology is unnecessary, and taxpayers shouldn't pay for any of it, according to a group campaigning against the Bellevue School District's upcoming levies.

The League of Washington Taxpayers plans to go door to door and appeal to Bellevue residents to vote against a $136 million four-year maintenance-and-operations levy and a $51 million, five-year technology levy that will be on the ballot in February, said Wynn Cannon, chairman of the group.

Mike Riley, Bellevue superintendent of schools, disagrees strongly with Cannon.

The district is not abandoning the basics, Riley said, but using technology as an aid to better teach the basics — and beyond.

Bellevue is one of seven school districts on the Eastside submitting levies to voters Feb. 7. A total of $1.5 billion is at stake, and many districts have technology or capital-improvement levies on the ballot. Absentee ballots are to be mailed out this week.

"We're not against education, but we think the district's emphasis has changed from the 'three R's,' from basic-education requirements, to technology," Cannon said. "Computers are a shortcut, in our opinion."

With a proper focus on teaching "the basics," children shouldn't have access to classroom computers until high school, he said.

Responded Riley: "We're not going to buy every kid in the school a laptop. I would ask this group if they are really aware of what the technology levy is being used for. This is for technology that will help parents stay abreast of what their students are doing by allowing teachers to post grades online, and technology that will help teachers teach kids more effectively and individualized."

The league also contends the proposed maintenance-and-operations levy is an unreasonable increase from the previous levy. Voters approved a $114.8 million maintenance-and-operations levy in 2002, and the district is asking voters to OK $136 million Feb. 7.

The league's main thrust is to control property taxes, which Cannon says are excessive and burdensome. He says the league has about 6,800 members throughout the state.

Bellevue's technology levy would give teachers more classroom tools, such as interactive whiteboards that students can touch in trying to choose the right answers, and documents cameras that would allow teachers more access to information by computer.

The levy also would help the district develop a curriculum Web site, which parents could access to see what their children are learning, and which teachers could use to share ideas.

Some Bellevue teachers have expressed shock that a group is opposing the district's levies.

"This is not greed on the school district's part; this is bringing cutting-edge technology into the classroom," said Charles Duerr, who teaches fourth-graders at Stevenson Elementary School. "Bellevue School District's mantra is to provide an education that traditionally has only been available to America's elite, and as a community we've stood by that. This [levy] is a step in that direction."

Duerr also noted that the federal No Child Left Behind Act encourages the use of technology in the classroom.

The Bellevue School District has been widely considered to have a model program for Advanced Placement classes. In 2003 and 2005, Newsweek magazine listed Bellevue high schools as among the best in the United States, based in part on the number of Advanced Placement tests taken.

"There is no way we could achieve the same benchmark and do as well as we're doing if we took technology out of our school," Riley said.

Cannon, 78, a longtime Bellevue resident, said all four of his children went to Bellevue schools. He believes parental responsibility plays a key role in a child's success in school. He and his children grew up at a time when technology such as computers wasn't available in classrooms and students had to learn more themselves instead of just accessing information, he said.

"From what I've seen, students are not adequately educated," Cannon said. "They can't talk in complete, intelligent sentences or comprehend what's going on."

Rachael Tuinstra: 206-515-5637 or rtuinstra@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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