South Sound voters looking at school operation levies on the Feb. 9 ballot arriving in the next few days might be excused for thinking, “Isn’t this funding what the Legislature is supposed to come up with? Why am I being asked for this?”
Yes, the state Supreme Court has told lawmakers to come up with more school funding by 2018. But until they do – and that’s no guarantee – schools still need to pay day-to-day expenses and other costs of keeping their doors open, including negotiated boosts in teacher salaries.
A compelling argument could be made that all local school districts should be asking voters for two-year levy reauthorizations this time, rather than the usual four years. The tiny Orting and Dieringer school districts are the only ones going with two-year measures.
It wouldn't be unprecedented to float a shorter levy; in fact, state law limited school levies to two years before 1998.
A shorter time frame could put more pressure on the Legislature to fix a broken K-12 funding system that leans on local levies to pay teachers. A two-year levy clock, combined with the court's 2018 deadline, might spur lawmakers to finally correct that inequity.
But it's too late for school districts to make such a change, and the fact that they went with standard four-year levies isn't sufficient reason to vote "no" on Feb. 9.
Here are the levies, which need simple majorities to pass, and two capital bond measures, which need 60 percent supermajorities. On Thursday we recommended approval of the Bethel and Sumner school district bond measures.
▪ Auburn: A four-year replacement levy providing 21 percent of the district’s budget will cost $4.13 per $1,000 in 2017, rising to $4.43 in 2020.
▪ Carbonado: A four-year replacement levy will cost $7.21 per $1,000 valuation in 2017 and rise to $7.24 in 2020. A 20-year $1.75 million bond measure will modernize historic buildings, provide safety and security upgrades, and provide access for the disabled. It would cost the owner of a $125,000 home $1.80 per $1,000 valuation, less than the bond it would replace that costs $2.12 per $1,000.
▪ Clover Park: A four-year replacement levy will cost $4.76 per $1,000 in 2017 and drop to $4.55 in 2020.
▪ Dieringer: A two-year replacement levy providing 32 percent of the district’s budget will cost $4.31 per $1,000 in 2017, rising to $4.47 in 2018.
▪ Fife: A $1.2 million six-year capital projects technology levy will cost 39 cents per $1,000 valuation in 2017, dropping to 33 cents in 2022. This reinstates the district’s previous technology levy.
▪ Orting: A two-year replacement levy will cost $3.99 per $1,000 assessed valuation.
▪ Peninsula: A four-year renewal levy, which funds 24 percent of the district’s budget, will cost $2.19 per $1,000 in 2017, dropping to $2.16 in 2020.
▪ White River: A 20-year $98.8 million bond measure will renovate and expand facilities as well as build a stadium at White River High School. It replaces an expiring bond at the same rate: $2.80 per $1,000 valuation.