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Local school taxes in Feb. 13 election bring out passionate campaigns on both sides

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REDMOND, Wash. — Somewhere in your mailbox or near your kitchen table is a February 13 special election voters guide.

Most of the measures on the ballot involve local bonds and levies to pay for education.

And in many communities, the issue of passing local taxes and new bonds to build schools is a passionate one.

In the Lake Washington School District, there is a heated campaign on both sides.

Persuasion just takes one call or one sign.

Q13 News met with two women campaigning for different outcomes.

Martha Deamicis has been calling voters to ask for support for a new bond and the renewal of two levies.

While Susan Wilkins is posting colorful signs all over town calling for the ballot measures to be rejected.

Wilkins says she doesn’t want her money to go into a new bond that’s asking for $299 million to build two new schools and improve or rebuild existing ones.

“To tear the whole thing down and rebuild it, such a waste,” Wilkins said.

But the district says they have 171 portables right now to accommodate the 700 new students enrolling every year.

“Lake Washington has a great reputation and I think families are moving into the area, they know that,” Alcott Elementary Principal Jon Hedin said.

If the bond is approved, Alcott Elementary in Redmond could get a new building with more classroom space for kids.

It would also mean the students get a cafeteria so they don't have to juggle their lunches.

”It’s a healthy lunch but it’s a long distance back to their classrooms,” Hedin said.

On top of the bond, the district has two levies up for renewal .

One of the levies accounts for about 19% percent of the school district's operating budget.

“It funds 80% of our substitutes in our district, funds 20% of our special needs staffing,” Deamicis said.

Technology, sports and security are some of the other items the levies will pay for.

“We are just trying to maintain what we have as far as good quality schools in Lake Washington school district,” Deamicis said.

But the conversation at one Redmond home shows how torn some parents are.

“We are caught in a crossfire, we've never been in this situation,” parent Tanya Rusak said.

Rusak and Tana Carpita each have three kids in the Lake Washington School District

“This particular bond and levy is a larger social issue that has much more larger implications than we've ever had,” Rusak said.

Rusak is talking about the significant spike in property taxes many King County homeowners will have to start paying this spring to help pay for public education across the state.

“People are going to be asked to make decisions before they are aware about the impact of their state taxes,” Rusak said.

That's the big thing -- the moms say it's not fair to vote on local school property taxes before they even know exactly what their state increases will be and where the money will exactly go.

“There will be families that won’t be that big of an impact," Carpita said, but some "may be already struggling and (this could be) pushing them out of the district."

But not all districts will be hit by higher property taxes long-term.

Take, for example, Federal Way -- the district says after seeing a spike this year, homeowners will save about $260 in overall property taxes starting in 2019 compared to 2017.

And in Pierce County, the Bethel School District will see a $250 decrease, also starting in 2019, for an average homeowner.

It all boils down to the Legislature's equation to equalize education across the state.

“This state tax is going to pay for public education,” Rusak said.

That leaves people like Rusak asking why local school boards are asking for more money.

“These measures actually fund items not funded by state funding,” Deamicis said.

The question remains: Is the state adequately funding basic education? Many say the state is still not fulfilling its paramount duty and that's why local levies are there.

“It's a good investment in our community it's why we want to live here,” Deamicis said.

Wilkins wants to live on the Eastside, too.

So she's hammering away, posting signs to get her message across.

“It's really expensive, our taxes have gone way up,” Wilkins said.

The Lake Washington School District says they are trying to be as transparent as possible on where all the money would go. They say residents can find specific information on their website.

The district says, bottom line, if the levies and the bond do not pass, it means overcrowded classrooms and cuts to some of their programs. If you are wondering how much your exact bill is, the answer is not that easy. The voter’s pamphlet will tell you what your local rate is -- but not the state’s portion.

Counties like Snohomish and Pierce have come out early, releasing specific increases in their districts. But King County is still working on the numbers. They say they are manually calculating the numbers and so many people will not know what the exact impact is before they go and vote on local taxes February 13.