The Tacoma School Board voted unanimously Monday to ask voters to approve a $140 million capital levy and an $82 million operations levy in February.
Board members also decided that a portion of Washington-Hoyt Elementary School would be modernized as part of the six-year construction measure. New Baker and Hunt middle schools already were included in the package proposal.
The capital levy would increase taxes 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, starting in 2011.
Board members are hoping for success following the failure of a $300 million, 20-year school bond package in March.
The proposed 75-cent tax hike is the same rate for the capital levy as the unsuccessful bond, but the levy collects less than half the total over six years instead of 20.
Another difference: The bond required a 60 percent approval rate, while the levy will need only a simple majority. The March bond failed with a 52 percent “no” vote.
The board also put a replacement programs and operations levy on the Feb. 9 ballot along with the capital levy. The operations levy would collect $82 million annually for four years, also starting in 2011.
The combined tax rate in 2011, including $5.06 for the operations levy and debt service, would be $5.81 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The owner of a house with Tacoma’s projected average assessed value of $218,880 would pay $1,272 in local school taxes in 2011. That includes $164 for the capital levy.
Property owners are paying $4.80 per $1,000 assessed valuation in 2009 and will pay $4.64 in 2010, including debt service.
The capital levy would enable a new Baker Middle School to open in January 2012 and a new Hunt Middle School in January 2015. The Washington portion of the dual campus at 3701 N. 26th St. would be modernized, preserving its historic character, and finished in September 2016.
Washington is the oldest elementary school in the Tacoma School District and ranks first in need of improvement. Nearly half of Washington was constructed in 1906. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Board members considered but opted not to include part of Grant Center for the Expressive Arts – its original 1919 building – in the proposal for $25 million in elementary school construction.
“It’s always an awkward and hard thing to piecemeal a school,” said board member Jim Dugan. Instead, board members said they want to have the option of expanding the size of Washington to include students at its dual-campus partner, Hoyt.
Board member Debbie Winskill said it was important to pick an elementary school for the measure. “The voters would want to know what we have in mind,” Winskill said.
Tacoma’s decision to put a construction levy on the ballot comes at a time when school districts all over the state are weighing their infrastructure needs against the mood of recession-weary voters. Three local school districts – Puyallup, Bethel and Franklin Pierce – have already decided not to push their luck with bonds next year.
Because of a voter-approved change in state law, the operations levy will require only a majority of “yes” votes, not a 60 percent approval. It funds about one-quarter of the district’s annual budget.
The district projects the owner of a house with an assessed value of $219,000 would pay $90 more in 2011 for both levies than the current operations levy. The impact of the rate increase is softened by declining housing values. In 2009, Tacoma’s average assessed house value was $246,000. The district projects that assessed value will fall to $218,880 in 2011.
Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647