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Editorial: Support your schools and more; get your ballot in

Ballots are due today for most Snohomish County school districts and the Lake Stevens Library.

By The Herald Editorial Board

Judging by the number of ballots returned to the Snohomish County Elections Office as of Friday, there’s still a fair number of voters who have yet to turn in their ballots in today’s special election for school and other districts in the county.

Stated plainly: Please, get your ballots in. Mail them. Leave them at a drop box. But get them in.

As of Friday morning, the elections office had received only 18 percent of the 443,105 ballots it had sent to county voters.

Darrington voters, with levies for their schools and fire district, had returned about 25 percent of their ballots, about 430 of a little more than 1,700 ballots. Stanwood-Camano Island School District voters had returned a similar percentage. Other districts were lagging around 17 percent to 19 percent, including Edmonds, Everett, Granite Falls, Marysville and Snohomish.

We realize many voters wait until the day of the election to mark their ballots and get them in. That day has arrived. At the risk of sounding like a scold, get your ballots in.

For the record, 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 District, 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.

This year’s special election are crucial, especially for school districts, because of the change in how the state is funding K-12 public education. For decades, state lawmakers haven’t kept up the state’s end of support for public schools, and instead allowed school districts to use their local school levies for a larger share of basic education, in particular teacher compensation.

That worked for some, but only those districts that had good support from their voters and had the benefit of having strong property valuations throughout the district. That inequity and over-reliance on school levies is what resulted in the McCleary lawsuit and the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision. Justices in that decade-old decision ordered the state to end the state’s reliance on local school district levies and take responsibility for “basic” education.

The Legislature’s solution was the so-called levy swap, which has increased the state’s portion of the property tax and decreases the amount that school districts can seek in their own levies. (The one-year spike in property taxes that many are seeing this month is the overlap of the old system as levies approved in previous years expire and the state begins its collection at an increased level.)

There are details yet to work out, including an adjustment to the limit placed on local levies and a clearer definition of what the state is paying for in “basic education,” and what programs and costs districts can fund with local levies. But voters should remember that the state’s funding of basic education doesn’t end the need for local school districts to seek their own levies that turn “basic” education into a quality education.

Additionally, some districts are seeking separate levies to fund technology and capital facility needs, again expenses for which the state does not provide full funding.

The same local responsibility goes for the bonds that school districts rely on to build new schools and renovate existing buildings. While the state provides a percentage of funding for construction — an amount that varies — local school district taxpayers provide a significant amount of construction funding through bonding.

Districts that are seeking bonds in today’s election are Arlington, Everett and Northshore, whose district includes the Snohomish County portions of Bothell. A bond also is being sought for construction of Lake Stevens’ new library, part of the Sno-Isle Libraries system.

Unlike levies, which pass with a simple majority, bonds require a 60 percent supermajority for approval, which makes voter turnout all the more important.

We have previously recommended that voters show their support for what are investments in their communities — in today’s election: schools, a library and a fire district — by approving the levies and bonds that fund those investments.

But you can’t show that support unless you return your ballot.

Get yours in.

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