Spokane Journal of Business

The Journal’s View: School districts shouldn’t be punished for state’s missteps

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It’s unfortunate that some school districts must go back to voters seeking approval of supplemental levies after the Washington state Legislature insufficiently addressed education funding during its last session.

Regardless, those districts seeking more funds for basic operations shouldn’t be punished for the unenviable budgeting position they’re in now. Spokane-area voters should support supplemental levies that come before them in order to keep schools fully funded and to maintain quality education for the region’s future workforce.

Central Valley school district is the latest hoping to address its budget shortfall with a supplemental levy. Voters in the district should have in front of them now a ballot requesting approval of a levy increase that would raise $11.75 million for the district by bumping up the levy rate to $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value from its current $1.50 rate. Ballots are due Feb. 11, and voters in the district should approve the district’s request as it seeks what essentially is gap coverage for a funding shortage for the last year of its current levy cycle.

East Valley school district is running a replacement levy concurrently that would keep taxes in that district at the same rate. A “yes” vote is important there too.

In Central Valley, administrators find themselves in an unusual position after a long, convoluted sequence of events that started with the McCleary Supreme Court decision, which found that the state has funded education inadequately.

In simplest terms, the court ruled the state put too much of the burden of education funding on school districts and ordered legislators to find a way to fund more at the state level. They did so, to a degree, and capped the amount school districts could seek in levies, which led to a decrease in taxes for property owners in some districts, including Central Valley.

With the influx of state money, school districts throughout the state gave teachers double-digit percentage increases in pay, a move that soon thereafter would lead to budget woes for many of them.

Legislators then turned around and passed the School Employee Benefits Board program to provide a uniform level of health benefits for school employees and their dependents, a move that’s estimated to cost districts statewide between $200 million and $300 million, in addition to a nearly $1 billion commitment the state is making to the program. The Journal came out against the program last year, as there was no clear solution to how districts would pay this cost.

The solution? Increase the cap on levy rates, which once again puts more of the onus on the district and theoretically puts the state in danger of being at odds with the McCleary ruling once again.

That’s the environment in which Central Valley – and some other districts – find themselves going to voters again. Cheney and West Valley school districts already ran successful supplemental levy campaigns last fall. Mead’s measure failed. Spokane Public Schools still hasn’t decided whether it will seek approval of a similar levy increase and is weighing its options.

As school districts like to say, levies are for learning, and bonds are for buildings. If approved, the Central Valley levy dollars would go toward special-education programs, student support, technology, instructional materials, staffing, and safety and security, all of which are necessary to ensure quality education.

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