Voters in each of the county’s 15 K-12 public school districts have a long track record of support when asked to approve the school levies that supplement what the state provides in the classroom.
But there’s apprehension this year among parents, teachers, district officials and others that a one-year spike in property taxes this year will discourage turnout and support for levies and bonds in 14 of the county’s school districts for the Feb. 13 special election.
For each district, the editorial board encourages voters to approve the levies and bonds on their ballots and return them at a drop box or through the mail by Feb. 13.
The spike that many property owners are seeing in their tax statements this year is significant, but it is temporary and is caused by the collision of old and new school funding methods, the outcome of the Legislature’s response to what has been called the McCleary decision. McCleary is the decade-old court case that resulted in a state Supreme Court mandate that required the state to meet its constitutional duty to amply and equitably fund K-12 education and end decades of over-reliance on local school district levies.
The solution, adopted last year by the Legislature, was the so-called levy swap: The state increased its property tax for support of K-12 schools, but set a new lower cap on what individual school districts would be allowed to request from voters. This year’s bump in the property tax reflects the first year of the state’s increased property tax and the final year of school districts’ tax collections under the old cap.
Although there are differences among districts, the levies sought by each district do represent reductions in the rate that taxpayers will be levied in individual school districts but won’t be reflected in tax statements until 2019.
The Legislature’s work regarding McCleary isn’t complete, however. While lawmakers made significant strides in satisfying McCleary in the eyes of the Supreme Court, their plan still falls short of meeting this year’s deadline, suggesting that lawmakers would need to allocate nearly $1 billion in additional funding this year to meet the court’s rquirements.
And officials for many school districts and state Superintendent of Public Schools Chris Reykdal are seeking changes that include making up for a shortfall in what the funding plan provides for special education and better defining “basic education” and thus what school districts are allowed to fund through levies and adjustments to the cap that lawmakers set for school district levies.
The limit set by last year’s legislation caps levies at $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value or $2,500 per student, whichever is the lesser amount. But many districts quickly noticed a problem with that cap, which disadvantages some districts. As discussed in a levy overview last week by The Herald’s Kari Bray, the $1.50 cap would mean the Marysville School District, for example, would collect less than $1,500 per student. Districts with higher-valued properties can collect at the $2,500-per-student level.
Reykdal has proposed legislative fixes that would loosen the cap and provide more flexibility to districts, allowing school district voters the final say on what level of program support they want in their districts.
Some districts are counting on that legislation to pass. While most districts are requesting replacement operation levies at the $1.50 level, three districts — Everett, Marysville and Darrington — are seeking approval of levies that are above that mark but still reflect a reduction from past levies. If the legislation doesn’t pass, those rates would default to the $1.50 level.
Districts also want a better definition of the “basic education” for which the state is responsible and what that leaves for districts to seek through local levies. Districts for years have had to use local levies to supplement the compensation for teachers and other staff that the state wasn’t fully funding. That had to change, and it mostly has.
But in seeking to take responsibility for teacher compensation, the Legislature’s levy swap has eaten into the school districts’ ability to seek voter approval for programs that provide a quality education, including support for special education, gifted programs, early learning, summer school, after-school programs, teaching materials, transportation, music, art, drama, athletics, teacher and staff training, STEM programs and more.
The editorial board encourages voters to support the levy and bond measures on their ballots, recognizing the investment a yes vote makes in their community’s children and its economy and quality of life. But we also ask that they contact their lawmakers and urge them to complete their work on McCleary and identify fair and sustainable funding sources for public education.
Feb. 13 special election
Voters in several districts in Snohomish County are being asked to submit ballots for the Feb. 13 special election for levies and/or bonds in their community.
Elections are being held in the following districts: Arlington School District, Darrington School District, Darrington’s Fire District 24, Edmonds School District, Everett School District, Granite Falls School District, Index School District, Lake Stevens School DistrictLake, Lake Stevens Library District, Marysville School District, Monroe School District, Mukilteo School District, Northshore School District, Snohomish School District, Stanwood-Camano School District and the Sultan School District.
Voters should have received their ballots. Ballots can be returned by mail (with a postage stamp) or at one of several ballot drop boxes throughout the county by 8 p.m. Feb. 13. For a list of drop-box locations, go to tinyurl.com/SnoCoDropBoxList.
Correction: In an earlier version of this editorial, Marysville School District was omitted from the list of districts with measures on the Feb. 13 ballot.