Even with an estimated $20 million in new education funding from the state legislature’s ‘Mc’Cleary Plan’ – which includes a hefty tax increase set to hit Washington State property owners on January 1st 2018 – the Snoqualmie Valley School District said in order to maintain current programming and staffing levels, and to continue reducing K-3 class sizes, it would need to maximize its local levy planned for the February 13th ballot.
Locally, the state funding portion of the McCleary Plan will increase Snoqualmie Valley taxes by 94 cents next year – increasing the state school [flat rate] levy to 2.97/1000 of assessed value. To offset that large state tax increase – and in an effort to reduce districts’ reliance on local levies – the legislature capped the amount school districts can levy locally at $1.50/1000 or $2500 per student, whichever is less.
Unfortunately, the capped local levies do not begin until 2019, making 2018 a more burdensome tax year for local property owners. Next year SVSD will maintain a local levy rate of $2.12/1000 – collecting about $18 million in local taxes – while the state increases its school levy rate by 46%.
So – like many other districts, the SVSD school board has been discussing how much to reduce their Educational Program & Operations (EP&O) local rate as they prepare the four-year levy for the February 2018 ballot. Presentations to the board at their last two meetings only considered reducing to the maximum allowed.
State legislators, though, had urged the school board to reduce further, to $1.25/1000, a level they said in a letter to board members was “the right balance between protecting taxpayers and maintaining enough money to add the programs that will enhance our local schools.” At $1.25, district taxpayers would experience a slight decrease in taxes in 2019, not an increase. Senator Mullet, Rep. Rodne and Rep. Graves also stated, “We will all be enthusiastic supporters of your local levy if the rate is set at this level.”
On November 8th, the Snoqualmie Valley School Board approved for the February ballot, a near maximum local levy authorizing the district to collect $14.25 million in 2019; $15.1 million in 2020; $15.95 million in 2021; $16.9 million in 2022. [The maxed levy rate of $1.50 in 2019 deceases to $1.45 in subsequent years as the formula assumes Snoqualmie Valley assessed property values will increase 8% each years.]
According to a November 8th presentation, when the legislature’s McCleary Plan funding model is fully implemented in 2019, the district is estimates it will have almost $15 million in expenses not funded by the state, which administrators stated necessitates a maximum levy.
Where will that $15 million to go?
Based on district estimates provided in the presentation, mostly to staffing and to maintaing current programming levels. The district anticipates increased teacher pay based on a new state pay structure mandated in the McCleary plan; hiring 25-40 teachers, most for K-3 class size reduction; increases in special education and MSOC (materials supplies and operating costs) expenditures. A small portion, 3-8%, is earmarked for unidentified “future costs” that could include new programming.
Senator Mullet said he is still not supportive, saying he does not think the district needs the maximum levy rate given the additional state funding. He said he is not endorsing the district’s levy proposal.
With this near max levy, along with new state funding, the Snoqualmie Valley School District’s 2017-18 operating budget of $85 million would increase to $101 million in 2019.
Board member Carolyn Simpson abstained from voting on the EP&O levy. She said, “There was a significant lack of information provided to the board; information that I believe is necessary to consider before we voted.” Simpson also noted a lack of discussion on ways to avoid an overall tax increase, more public vetting time before a vote and no consideration for any option other than a maximum levy.
All board members agreed on the need for some local levy funding, recognizing the positive impact of lower class sizes on student outcomes, the possibility of adding programming valued by the community and attracting and maintaining quality teachers with competitive pay.
The school board also approved a replacement technology levy for the February ballot. The proposed amount would increase the current tech levy being collected by about a dime, equating to a 28% increase. The proposed tech levy would help fund a 1-to-1 computer ratio in grades 6-12; expanding Computer Science Education and staff; improving infrastructure.
Overall tax impact: If approved by voters, the two February 13th four-year levies would increase property taxes on average .24/1000 compared to current 2017 levels. For a $500,000 home that means about $120 more per year.
Other nearby districts have also had to decide on local levy rates for upcoming February levies. Lake Washington SD, which could have proposed a maximum levy of $1.29/1000 (1.29 hits the $2500 per student cap), decided on $1.03/1000, lowering the rate of their 2014 local levy.
In October the Issaquah School Board approved a max levy that even surpassed the 1.50 level. The district faced pushback, including harsh criticism from former Issaquah School Board president and former state legislator Chad Magendanz. The Issaquah school board is meeting later this month to consider reducing the rate to a level state legislators will support, which is $1.13 for the first two years.
According to Senator Mullet, Issaquah and the Snoqualmie Valley both faired extremely well with the McClearly plan, and will receive more in state funding than many other districts, which decreases the need for maximum local levies.
Rep. Graves stated previously that he voted for the McCleary Plan legislation because of the substantial increase in state funding for SVSD, calling it a ‘home run’ for the district. Graves said he would support a SVSD levy of $1.25, but not the proposed levy approved by the board on November 8th. Rep. Rodne also said he can’t endorse the district’s decision to go for the max levy.
[The monetary difference between the levy rate the board approved and the rate legislators say they would support is estimated to be about $2-$3 million per year.]