Support Local Journalism


Subscribe


Local school districts are all trying to navigate the murky waters of public education funding in the wake of the McCleary decision, and are taking different approaches to levies on the ballot.

In the McCleary decision, the Washington state Supreme Court ruled that the state Legislature must fully fund K-12 education. Previously, many districts in the state were supplementing state funding with larger levies to bridge the gap and meet expenses.

Since McCleary and the promises of “fully funded education,” the Legislature set a new levy cap at $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value. Districts around the state are taking different approaches to levies in the wake of additional state funding given uncertainty over exactly how much funding the state will provide and what strings will be attached.

Thorp and Kittitas school districts are asking for more than the $1.50, in the hopes that if the Legislature decides forgo the $1.50 limit in 2018, the districts will be able to collect the amount on the ballot. If the $1.50 limit holds, the districts will only be able to collect that amount, then hope that the state funding covers the rest.

Ellensburg School District is asking for the $1.50 per $1,000. If the state funding doesn’t come as promised, the district hopes the state will allow them to go out for supplemental levies in the future to fill the gaps. Ellensburg also has greater facility needs, and will most likely be putting out a bond for a new elementary school in the near future. Because of that, school board members have said they want to be respectful to voters and avoid levy/bond fatigue.

Superintendents for Thorp and Kittitas said this week the state funding changes affect smaller schools differently, and each stands to lose at least $300,000 from their respective budgets without the full request. The state Legislature is still looking at school funding fixes, especially in regard to smaller school districts.

The levies need 50 percent voter approval to pass. Ballots were mailed this week and are due Feb. 13.

THORP

Thorp School District has two levies on the February ballot: a four-year replacement maintenance and operations levy and a four-year technology levy. Both are renewals.

The replacement of the expiring educational programs and operations levy is set at $3.41 per $1,000 with an estimated $776,867 collected each year. The levy funds are used for instructional programs, clubs and sports, utilities, special education, textbooks and materials, transportation and food services.

The tech levy is set at 22 cents per $1,000, collecting an estimated $50,000 per year. It will pay for hardware like iPads and Chromebooks which are on a 6-8 year replacement cycle, part of the salary for a technology coordinator, computers, professional development, security, servers, projectors, iPad covers and routers.

Adding together both levies, the estimated cost for home valued at $200,000 a year would be $726 in 2019, $724 in 2020, $720 in 2021 and $716 in 2022, according to district materials. It’s approximately $60 a month.

In a presentation to the Daily Record Editorial Board on Thursday, Thorp Superintendent Linda Martin outlined what the school has been able to accomplish with the levies through their last cycle, including offering preschool, full-day kindergarten, organizing the student council and more.

Like most districts, about 72 percent of the budget comes from state funding, while 22 percent come from local taxes. About 75 percent of the expenses go toward salaries and benefits.

The district has historically rolled back excess levy funds to taxpayers, she added. A 32-page technology plan is available from the district that details where the money will be spent, the district’s policies for technology use and how technology fits into the district’s curriculum.

KITTITAS

The Kittitas School District has two levies on the February ballot: a four-year replacement educational programs and operation levy and a four-year technology levy.

The replacement of the expiring educational programs and operation levy is a four-year levy at $2.34 per $1,000 of assessed property value each year, the same as the previous rate.

The levy’s funds are used for staffing, materials, supplies and operating costs, food services, textbook replacement, transportation, field trips and co-curricular activities and athletics.

It will generate approximately $1.6 million to $1.7 million annually, about 22 percent of the district’s operating budget.

The technology levy is a first for Kittitas, and is set for 49 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. It will fund upgrades for hardware, software, fund staff training and hire a network specialist. It will generate approximately $342,00 annually.

Kittitas Interim Superintendent Rich Stewart was hired on for another year while the district searches for a new superintendent. He said it was becoming obvious upgrades in technology were needed to accommodate not only the students, but the infrastructure.

“We need to make sure we have a robust program,” Stewart said.

He said the district took the proposals to a levy committee, which included some of the larger landowners in the area, for review. Committee members suggested the 49 cent per $1,000 request, which was higher than the district originally proposed, because they thought technology skills were essential for students, he said.

Adding together both levies, the estimated cost for a home valued at $200,000 would be $566 annually, or $47 a month.

The district’s goal is to implement a one-to-one initiative where there will be a computer or tablet for each student to use, much like Thorp and Ellensburg do currently.

ELLENSBURG

The Ellensburg School District is replacing the expiring educational programs and operation levy with a four-year levy at $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value each year.

The levy is a drop from the $3.42 per $1,000 in 2017, due to the current state law.

“It’s quite a decrease,” Ellensburg Interim Superintendent Mike Nollan said. “We talked long and hard about that … we‘re banking on the Legislature coming through and fulfilling their responsibility.”

Using Ellensburg’s median home price of $238,000, the average homeowner would pay an estimated $357 a year, or $29.75 per month, according to district materials.

The levy’s funds will go toward maintaining current educational programs and facility operations, providing certified teaching staff and classified support staff above state funding levels, textbooks, library materials classroom materials, equipment repair, special and gifted education programs, transportation for school and extracurricular activities above state funding and enable the district to adjust to inflation.

The changes in state funding have come with new rules that cover salary reimbursements, class sizes and other areas, and not all of the changes are fully settled, Business Director Brian Aiken said.

The levy will fund 17.3 percent of the district’s budget, providing approximately $3.8 million in funding.

Nollan said the district has recently implemented a new writing program at the elementary level, and is working on a new program to quickly catch and assist high school freshmen who might be struggling. Levy funding also helps support the district’s summer school program.

Ellensburg School Board President Jennifer Hackett said the board’s approach was to be as straight forward with the public as they could be.

“We wanted to be very direct,” Hackett said. “If this is what we’re going to get, it’s what we’re going to get and what we’re going to ask for. That was our philosophy.”

Comments

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.