It’s that time again when the Monroe School District looks to voters to approve additional funding via the Maintenance and Operation Levy. Before voting, here’s some important information to consider.
Washington school districts have become the beneficiary of the “McCleary decision,” which mandates our state to “fully fund” education and increases K-12 funding through 2018. In Washington, public school funding comes from state and federal taxes as well as locally approved property taxes. Washington’s first “McCleary decision” down payment was over $1 billion, increasing the budgets of all K-12 school districts, including MSD that received an increase of over $3.9 million ($600 more per student).
Many are questioning why districts like Monroe continue to seek the maximum M&O levy amount allowable by law when the state has paid them considerable money to reduce their reliance on local property taxes. Local taxpayers want to know: where’s the reduction to their property school taxes from that $1 billion from the state?
Currently, MSD makes the top 20 percent for highest local property school tax rates in the state. MSD taxpayers come in at No. 61 out of 295 school districts! MSD total tax rate is $5.63 per thousand dollars of assessed property value compared to the state average of $4.44, or 27 percent higher than the state average!
The Feb. 11, ballot once again asks voters to increase property taxes by requesting an additional $10 million. If approved the M&O will have almost doubled (91 percent) in 10 years, even though enrollment in our traditional schools has decreased by more than 350 students!
M&O levies in Monroe have steadily increased, however, traditional student enrollment in our schools are down to 1999 level. In 2004, M&O four-year levy was $34.7 million for 5,363 students, while this four-year levy is $66 million with 5,063.
With fewer students and increased state funding, people are rightfully questioning the amount of this levy. While there are a multitude of questions they boil down to the following:
1) Why doesn’t the M&O levy request reflect a reduction instead of an increase due to the influx of more state dollars and the decrease in enrollment of traditional student enrollment (currently at 1999 levels)?
2) Questions over fiscal responsibility. The last two years the school board overspent their board’s budget by $1 million, including spending over $2.5 million on a disputed lease contract, tax dollars that should have been spent in the classroom. The superintendent salary (excluding MSD monthly annuity contribution) is amongst the top 8 percent highest superintendent salaries in the state, coming in at No. 23 out of 295 school districts, making more than our governor.
Voters should be aware that if this levy is rejected, the district has the opportunity to reconsider the amount before placing a more reasonable levy ballot back before the voters a second time that year.
Debra Kolrud a former Monroe school director.