With a pair of school levies expiring next year, the Tacoma School Board will seek comment on two tax proposals at its Sept. 26 and Oct. 10 meetings before deciding whether to ask voters to approve them in a February election.
The first proposal is a request to replace what the district calls an Educational Programs & Operations levy. It supports 24 percent of day-to-day school operations. The second proposal would replace the district’s technology levy. It helps schools upgrade student and staff equipment such as computers and printers.
Both levies were approved by voters in 2010.
The proposed operations levy would raise a total of $344 million — $86 million a year for four years — beginning in 2015. The technology levy would raise $40 million — $10 million each year — over the same time frame.
The school district is still fine-tuning its calculations based on property values reported by Pierce County. But for now, officials estimate that passing the operations levy would cost an average of $4.67 per $1,000 of assessed property value over the four years beginning in 2015. The rate is $4.63 per $1,000 in 2014, when the current levy is set to expire.
Using the average assessed value of a Tacoma home at $178,000, district officials estimate passage of the operations levy would cost the average homeowner $831 a year over the four years, compared to $824 in 2014.
The technology levy would cost an average of 54 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value over the four years beginning in 2015, according to district estimates. The 2014 rate is 34 cents per $1,000. The annual cost of the technology levy would average about $96 over the four years as opposed to $60 in 2014.
After hearing public comment, the school board plans to decide Oct. 10 whether to place the levies on the Feb. 11 ballot.
Superintendent Carla Santorno told board members that the operations levy is critical to maintaining district operations. It pays for about 600 teachers, as well as librarians and nurses. It also pays for textbooks, safety measures, arts and music, and school maintenance
Shaun Taylor, district technology services director, told the board that the average age of laptop computers used by students and teachers is about six years. With renewed levy funding, he said, the average age would drop to four years or less. Without it, the average age would creep up to between nine and 11 years.
If the technology levy passes, the district estimates it would spend about 85 percent of the money in schools and classrooms while the remainder would fund improvements in infrastructure.
Santorno said both the operations and technology levies would support every school in the district.
Board members also said it’s important for voters to understand the difference between operations levy dollars and bond money. Last year, Tacoma voters overwhelmingly approved a $500 million bond measure that will fund major construction and rebuilding projects at 14 schools.
“Bond (dollars) can’t be used for operating expenses,” said board member Karen Vialle.
She said that districts depend on local levy dollars.
“If we don’t, as a community, step up and vote yes, it will mean devastating cuts,” Vialle said.
Board member Catherine Ushka also pointed out that without periodic voter approval, school operations levies in Washington state expire.
That’s different than the system used in some other states, she noted, where school levies are permanent and voters are asked only to approve increases.Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635 debbie.cafazzo@ thenewstribune.com @DebbieCafazzo