County school districts fear Gregoire proposal will cost them

  • Sun Jan 10th, 2010 10:29pm
  • News

By Eric Stevick Herald Writer

More than $9 million may be stripped away from Snohomish County schools if the state ends its practice of attempting to spread tax dollars more equitably among the state’s school districts.

The pain won’t feel the same everywhere.

Some districts wouldn’t feel a thing. Others might wince a bit, and a few would endure a financial hemorrhage.

Gov. Chris Gregoire’s initial budget proposal would suspend something called levy equalization, a spending tool the state uses to provide better equity among property-rich and property-poor school districts. Extra money goes to districts with a lower than average property tax base.

Changing levy equalization is one of many decisions the Legislature will consider during a 60-day session that begins today at the state capital in Olympia.

The governor’s proposal would save state government $142.9 million as it grapples with a $2.6 billion shortfall. All told, Gregoire has proposed about $400 million in cuts to education next year. On Tuesday, Gregoire is expected to propose new or higher taxes that will raise enough money to keep the program fully funded through mid-2011.

Without levy equalization, Marysville could lose $3.5 million; Lake Stevens, $2 million; and Monroe, $1.4 million. Edmonds, Mukilteo and Stanwood-Camano, on the other hand, wouldn’t lose a dime.

Paul Rosier, executive director of the Washington Association of School Administrators, said levy equalization is one of several cuts that could be made to the state’s schools.

“I think that of all of the things on the table, this is clearly one of those that is the most unfair,” he said. “If K-12 is going to take some hits, it ought to be in a fairer way than levy equalization.”

For Marysville, the money lost from levy equalization would translate into a loss equal to 53 teachers, although the district would look for a combination of ways to make the cuts, said Larry Nyland, the district’s superintendent.

“It has been absorbed into everything we do,” he said.

Lake Stevens School District Superintendent Dave Burgess said his district could lose 40 teaching and nonteaching jobs if levy equalization is suspended.

“It’s a huge hit, no doubt about it,” Burgess said. “I don’t know how that magnitude of cuts could occur in schools.”

Many districts in other parts of the state would be hit even harder, he said.

“Certainly there is no equity here,” Burgess said. “It splashes across the state very unevenly.”

The Everett School District would lose about $300,000.

“It’s not as dramatic as it is for other districts,” said Mary Waggoner, a school district spokeswoman. “We believe we are not in this alone. We are in this together. It should be an even playing field financially for all students.”

State Sen. Steve Hobbs said levy equalization is one of several hard spending decisions lawmakers will have to confront over the next two months. Education must compete with other pressing needs, such as criminal justice and health and safety, he said.

“I think this particular issue is a hot button among many of my peers,” said Hobbs, a member of the Senate Education Committee and whose district includes Lake Stevens. “They don’t want to see levy equalization go away.”

There are no guarantees, he said

“It’s all about who are we going to take from or if revenues need to be increased somehow,” Hobbs said.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, stevick@heraldnet.com.