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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Where The Money Goes Here’s A Look At Some Of The Programs And Services Paid For In Part By School Levies

Wendell Smith wants to give the seventh-graders in his math class every possible edge.

So he plays Mozart during class. “I don’t know if you’ve heard about the research linking math and classical music. But this is ITAL the guy UNITAL,” Smith says, pointing to a Mozart CD.

It is Friday afternoon, 2:04 p.m., seventh period at Greenacres Junior High. Smith charges into a lesson plan designed to warm his students up for their next test: fractions, equations, absolute numbers, functions.

Smith is no softie. He turns down one girl’s offer to finish last night’s homework during class.

“No. Your homework needs to be finished by the time you get to class,” he says.

Another student can’t remember a certain term that Smith is looking for - absolute numbers - yet he manages a good explanation of what absolute numbers are. Smith is happy.

This is pre-algebra. It is also an astonishingly attentive group of students. Not everyone raises his or her hand, but several students do, and almost everyone is clearly sticking with the discussion. After all, it’s hard to hide with only 17 students in the room.

This class is smaller than most at Greenacres because of a fluke in scheduling. A typical math class in a Central Valey junior high has between 25 and 28 students. But without the 32-student limit spelled out in Central Valley’s teacher contracts - and without money from Central Valley’s maintenance and operations levy - class sizes would be much higher than they are, said Skip Bonuccelli, school district spokesman.

Bob Benner, 68, relishes his drive in Bus No. 5 into the Foothills. Snow traces the furrows of the farm fields like agricultural lace. It’s Friday at lunchtime, and he’s delivering six kindergartners from East Valley’s Skyview Elementary School.

The children have grouped themselves, three boys on one side of the aisle, three girls on the other. The girls chatter quietly. The boys punch the backs of the seats.

Benner sends a few gruff warnings over his shoulder when one boy slips out of his seat. A tender side shows, too.

“Bye, Bob,” says a slip of a girl with a blond French braid as she climbed off the bus.

“Bye, honey,” Benner says.

In the dips, the dirt roads have a slushy covering. Benner eases along the washboardy stretches slowly. He knows almost every house on the route - which child’s grandparents live here, whose aunt or uncle lives there. His conversation is part reminiscing, part philosophy. A retired farmer from Reardan, Wash., he knows how much work goes into the Foothills farms - and how much work goes into raising a child.

When his last passenger, a girl named Amber, climbs down, her mother is standing at the front window of the frame house. She waves. Benner waves back.

“OK, ABLE Learners, here is your problem,” said Sharon Sell. “Each of you is going to be given a raw …” - a dramatic pause filled the air - “egg.”

“Ooh!”

The third graders gasped and groaned their way through Sell’s instructions. She described an obstacle course for the eggs, working up, down, across and around four desks. Tools for moving the eggs included a tissue, a toothpick, a straw, an envelope, a 2-inch piece of tape. Each could be used only once.

Sell laid down another rule. “Except to put your egg on the table, you may not touch your egg.”

Gasp.

Points off for “wounded” eggs. No further progress for completely broken ones. Groan.

Sell’s short hair and short skirt fit with her manner. She wrapped up instructions, and the Central Valley students fell into teams to plot and plan.

Creative thinking is an emphasis for the ABLE Learners, Central Valley’s gifted education program.

Inna Bagmanyan stops to talk in the hallway - which is her classroom - at Trentwood Elementary School. She has a table there and simple story books - books that her own first-grade daughter reads. In a few minutes she will start a lesson with one of the Russian students to whom she teaches English.

Bagmanyan, 29, teaches and interprets for students at three East Valley grade schools and at East Valley High School.

For her students, English is a second language. Some come to school without even knowing the English alphabet.

Bagmanyan has an expressive voice, a voice that matches the smile on her face. It’s no surprise, when she says she was a teacher in Moscow for five years before she came to America.

“I have many ideas about how to work with children,” she said. She emphasizes vocabulary, of course, but she also teaches her students about American culture - Columbus Day, Thanksgiving and so on.

Bonnie Keenan is in her second year of teaching a fifth-grade class loaded with technology.

Her students at Seth Woodard Elementary each gathered a month’s worth of weather data from the Internet for one project.

This spring, they’ll be computing the mileage from their homes to their choice of national parks. Again, via the Internet. They trade data with e-mail penpals at another school. Some of them produce slick multimedia presentations.

Sound like a little utopia?

Not quite. Keenan’s worried about who’s going to repair her equipment when it develops glitches. Not to mention the 28 McIntosh computers in the lab next door to her room. A week ago, Keenan said that hardly any of the Macs were working well enough to connect with the Internet.

Also, last year’s fifth-graders sometimes come back from Centennial Middle School to visit Keenan. She asks if they are using technology this year, in the sixth grade. Mostly, they are not.

Centennial and the district’s grade schools need computer infrastructure, hardware, software and training, WV superintendent Dave Smith says.

If WV voters approve a $1 million technology levy next week, Smith says he’ll spend the money over four years. That way, there will be time to train teachers, rather than flooding the classrooms with equipment that teachers don’t know how to use.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos (1 color)

MEMO: Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. ON THE BALLOT Valley residents will go to the polls on Tuesday to vote on maintenance and operations levies in all Valley school districts. In addition, Central Valley residents will vote on a school bus levy, while Freeman and West Valley voters will consider technology measures.

2. PROPOSALS Central Valley School District will have two levies on the Feb. 3 ballot. Maintenance and operations levy of $11.2 million in 1999 and $11.7 million in 2000. Proposed tax rate is $3.95 per $1,000 of assessed property value. Current levy tax rate is $4.10 per $1,000. School bus levy of about $900,000 over two years, to replace 15 school buses, all of which are pre-1980 models. Proposed tax rate is 15 cents per $1,000.

East Valley School District will have one levy on the ballot on Feb. 3. Maintenance and operations levy of $4.8 million each year for 1999 and 2000. Proposed tax rate is $3.99 per $1,000 of assessed property value. Current tax rate is $3.72 per $1,000.

West Valley School District will have two levies on the Feb. 3 ballot. Maintenance and operations levy of $4.4 million in 1999 and $4.6 million in 2000. Proposed tax rate is $4.68 per $1,000 in 1999 and $4.78 in 2000. Current tax rate is $4.42 per $1,000. Technology levy of $1 million over two years to update and increase technology in the schools. Proposed tax rate is 57 cents per $1,000.

Freeman School District will have two levies on the ballot. Maintenance and operations levy is $800,000 per year in 1999 and 2000. Proposed tax rate is $4.35 per $1,000. Current tax rate is $3.77 per $1,000. Technology levy of $915,000 over five years to update and increase technology in the schools. Superintendent Harry Amend said Freeman’s technology plan calls for a multi-media computer connected to the Internet in every K-12 classroom, five portable computer labs of 30 computers each, software, staff training and upgrading the two school libraries’ technology. Proposed tax rate is 99 cents per $1,000.

Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. ON THE BALLOT Valley residents will go to the polls on Tuesday to vote on maintenance and operations levies in all Valley school districts. In addition, Central Valley residents will vote on a school bus levy, while Freeman and West Valley voters will consider technology measures.

2. PROPOSALS Central Valley School District will have two levies on the Feb. 3 ballot. Maintenance and operations levy of $11.2 million in 1999 and $11.7 million in 2000. Proposed tax rate is $3.95 per $1,000 of assessed property value. Current levy tax rate is $4.10 per $1,000. School bus levy of about $900,000 over two years, to replace 15 school buses, all of which are pre-1980 models. Proposed tax rate is 15 cents per $1,000.

East Valley School District will have one levy on the ballot on Feb. 3. Maintenance and operations levy of $4.8 million each year for 1999 and 2000. Proposed tax rate is $3.99 per $1,000 of assessed property value. Current tax rate is $3.72 per $1,000.

West Valley School District will have two levies on the Feb. 3 ballot. Maintenance and operations levy of $4.4 million in 1999 and $4.6 million in 2000. Proposed tax rate is $4.68 per $1,000 in 1999 and $4.78 in 2000. Current tax rate is $4.42 per $1,000. Technology levy of $1 million over two years to update and increase technology in the schools. Proposed tax rate is 57 cents per $1,000.

Freeman School District will have two levies on the ballot. Maintenance and operations levy is $800,000 per year in 1999 and 2000. Proposed tax rate is $4.35 per $1,000. Current tax rate is $3.77 per $1,000. Technology levy of $915,000 over five years to update and increase technology in the schools. Superintendent Harry Amend said Freeman’s technology plan calls for a multi-media computer connected to the Internet in every K-12 classroom, five portable computer labs of 30 computers each, software, staff training and upgrading the two school libraries’ technology. Proposed tax rate is 99 cents per $1,000.

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