Politics & Government

Curious citizen catches error in statewide voter guide

A sharp-eyed Olympia voter caught an error in the printed statewide voters’ guide that prompted a correction in the online guide from state officials Thursday.

The voter, a retiree who spoke to The News Tribune but asked to remain anonymous, was attempting to calculate the costs per new employee of Initiative 1351, the measure aimed at reducing class size in Washington schools.

“It was just a fun exercise,” he said.

Looking at the voters’ guide fiscal impact statement prepared by the state Office of Financial Management (OFM), he concluded that even though the “additional district/central staff” made up only 4 percent of the projected new hires, they appeared to account for 76 percent of the salary and benefits — a whopping $798,442 per employee in the 2018-19 school year.

“Is this possibly correct?” he asked in an email.

It was not.

A check with OFM revealed that 6,407 employees had been misplaced in the wrong category when the table was drawn up. They belonged not in the “additional school-based staff” column, where they were originally listed, but in the “additional district/central staff” category, where the voter’s calculations were focused.

But the chart needed still further clarification to make the numbers work, according to OFM.

One column listed “new state expenditures” for each employee category. An adjacent column listed “new school district expenditures” in the same categories.

The curious Olympia voter assumed that those dollar amounts were separate expenditures. In fact, the “new school district expenditures” category includes the “new state expenditures,” according to OFM.

On Thursday, officials revised the chart and added the explanatory notes to the column heading in the online voters’ guide.

The new figures were listed in Table 2 under the fiscal impact statement for I-1351.

OFM officials said that the rest of the table, including the projection of 7,453 new teachers, was correct. They also said that their numbers swap does not affect their estimated total projection of increased state expenditures under I-1351 — an increase of $4.7 billion through 2019.

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