By Courtney Oldwyn
Special to the Journal
It’s not uncommon for Dylan Allen to stay after school to work in the computer lab, his brain whirring as he learns to repair the main computer server and fix networking problems.
The Friday Harbor High School sophomore is set to join the work force this spring as a technology assistant at Friday Harbor High School.
Since the beginning of the school year, Dylan has been participating in an after school technology internship helping with the school’s networking system, server maintenance and computer repair. Recently the school offered to turn his internship into a paying position as a technical assistant to his advisor Technology Support Technician Nicholas Groseclose who participated in a similar after school program during his time as a Friday Harbor High School student.
With this job Dylan stands to gain even more real world, hands-on experience in the field he’s planning to study in college and later base his career on. This technological equipment, staff support and training are available to students like Dylan in part because of school district levies passed by county voters over the past few years.
On Feb. 9 the San Juan County school district will again ask residents to vote, this time to reauthorize another four year Capital Projects and Technology Levy to help fund certain improvements and projects in county schools.
A levy is essentially a property tax voted in to help fund specific school district projects that are not supported by the basic education funding allocated by the state.
Government school funding comes from two places. The majority comes from the state, which provides general funding for things like teacher salaries, school building utilities and various basic school supplies. Next is the federal government which gives money to special education programs and helps meet the needs of at-risk students.
Federal funding is governed by the Every Student Succeeds Act, which recently replaced the No Child Left Behind Act. The gap between funding received and what it actually costs to run a school district is left to the district to make up, usually in the form of levies and sometimes bonds.
In 2012, San Juan County voters passed the previous Capitol Projects and Technology Levy which “expires” this year and, if passed, will be replaced by the new levy. Much like a magazine subscription, a new levy must be voted in every four years.
If this levy passes it will fund various building improvements and projects as well as technological advances such as a new Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics building at the Friday Harbor Elementary School.
It is the technological improvements made possible by 2012’s voter-passed school levy that allow kids like Dylan Allen to gain such valuable hands on experience in the world of computers and technology.
The technological advances made possible if this levy passes are not the only way it will support district schools but they are an important part. According to Michele Mayer, co-chairman of the Capital Projects and Technology Levy Committee, earlier access to up to date technology is something these kids need in order to be on par with their peers when they hit college. A STEM building at the elementary school will allow children access to solid “academically geared technology earlier,” said Mayer.
Other projects earmarked to be funded by this year’s Capitol Projects and Technology Levy include a remodel of the Turnbull Gym’s locker rooms which have not been updated since the gym was opened in the 1980s. Structural problems at the Friday Harbor Middle School are also on the repair list along with modernizing both school’s libraries and kitchens.
Turnbull Gym is a community owned asset which was built on tax payers dollars, Mayer said. “They (the tax payers) wouldn’t want to see that building crumble.”
Opponents of this year’s levy say that the increase from the 2012 levy is too high; that it doesn’t follow reasonable income and cost of living increases. The previous levy’s tax worked out to cost about $170 per year for a home assessed around $500,000. The reauthorized 2016 levy will cost county homeowners about $230 per year per $500,000 home value which is approximately a 35 percent increase.
The levy committee has been clear that the process of choosing which projects and tech advances to fund has been fairly and thoroughly chosen. One of the high priorities of the committee is transparency. They’ve gone so far as to list the projected cost breakdown of each project on their website at www.sjlevy.org.
“The technology we have now with the STEM building and what these kids can play with is leaps and bounds past what we had before,” said Groseclose, who participated in an internship similar to the one Dylan Allen participates in.
Groseclose said there were times during college tech classes that he could say to himself, “I know this stuff! And it was because of the hands on experience I had here at school.”
Ballots for the levy will be sent out Jan. 22 and must be received by Feb. 9.