School Funding

Voters will decide the fate of critical school funding measures

INDEX – In this rural school district sandwiched between mountain peaks, there’s money in the budget for students to play in the band and have a nurse on campus a few hours a week.

Funding does not come entirely from the state.

For years, the community helped foot the bill through a local tax levy. But it expires at the end of the year.

Next month, district leaders will ask voters to renew the levy for another four years. If adopted, it will bring in around $88,000 in 2023.

It’s a small amount, but an amount that allows the district to retain local control and “continue to take care of ours and have the vibrant place of a school in the center of town,” said Kathy Corson, Index school board member and part-time teacher.

Across Snohomish County, a dozen school districts are asking voters in a special election on Feb. 8 to approve four-year levies to help pay for programs and services not covered by the state. Each ballot measure proposes to replace a levy that was due to expire at the end of 2022.

Combined, the measures would generate $329.1 million for districts in 2023, the first year of collection, and $1.41 billion over four years.

In addition, eight of those districts are seeking approval for separate capital or technology levies to replace those expiring at the end of the year. These would collectively bring in $592.6 million. The biggest is Everett’s six-year levy: a proposed $325.5 million.

One district, Northshore, is also seeking voter approval for a 20-year, $425 million bond, giving it three tax measures in the special election.

A simple majority is required for the adoption of the education program and capital levies. Northshore will need the support of at least 60% of voters to pass its obligation.

The ballots will be mailed on January 20, one day after the mailing of the electoral brochures.

Snohomish School District officials are asking voters to support two levies — one for educational offerings and one for capital projects. This money would pay for the cost of student learning programs and school building maintenance not covered by state dollars.

If approved, the two levies will bring in a combined $32.7 million in the first year.

“The state is funding, but it’s funding very basic education,” said Snohomish School District Superintendent Kent Kultgen. “It is our responsibility to ensure that this generation and generations to come have the education necessary for our society and our community to continue.”

Local tax collections make up about 16% of Snohomish District’s revenue and fund more than 50 full-time positions, he said.

Under the current school funding formula, the state provides enough money for the equivalent of 1.4 full-time nurses for the three high schools, two middle schools, 10 elementary schools, preschools, and a homeschooling program. of the district, he said. With local tax revenue, the district could employ the equivalent of a dozen full-time nurses in the district.

And all of the district’s after-school programs — whether athletics, music or theater — are funded entirely by the local tax levy, Kultgen said.

It’s a similar story in the Marysville School District where voters will also consider continuing two existing levies.

The educational program tax is the district tax second funding The source, representing more than 18% of the overall budget.

The district relies entirely on the levy to fund athletics and extracurricular activities — there is no other source of revenue to fund those activities, district spokesperson Jodi Runyon said. It also helps pay the salaries of teachers, counsellors, librarians and nurses, and it funds early learning programs.

This tax needs to be renewed, alongside the Technology and Capital Projects Tax that allows the district to pay for equipment that has been critical to student engagement in the pandemic, as well as repairing the roof of the Marysville Pilchuck High School and Quil Ceda Elementary School.

If approved, the two will generate about $32 million for the district of about 10,000 students in the first year.

“Without that money, it all has to come out of general coffers, and right now Marysville has to make a lot of cuts just to stay within our current budget,” school board chairman Paul Galovin said.

This election marks the first time that a local election pamphlet will be sent with information on the measures, as well as statements from supporters and opponents. Until now, pamphlets were only required for primary and general elections.

This created an opportunity for sniping critics.

“It’s historic. School districts must finally practice what they are supposed to teach – public arguments for and against are healthy and vital parts of our democracy,” said Jeff Heckathorn of Mill Creek, who authored the arguments against the measures in 30 districts of the state.

“I didn’t want to be on all these committees,” he says. “But I wanted someone to help voters consider both sides of the issues, a fundamental democratic principle. These school districts, for too long, have deliberately made it difficult for voters to learn all the facts about these levies and obligations.

Heckathorn argues that tax measures should not feature on a February ballot when turnout will be low. Plus, it happens before people get their property tax bill, so they can’t fully assess the impact on their finances.

“How convenient,” he said. “I find it rather infuriating that the districts do this. These important tax measures are expected to be on the ballot during the month of November, when voter turnout is much higher as hard-working taxpayers are better known. The tax measures affect all citizens, owners and tenants in their rents.

For school district leaders, timing is also important. They want to know if there will be stable funding to continue the same levels of education and extracurricular activities.

Or if not.

“We would have to get more and more creative without the tax in order to fund our schools,” Galovin said.

Isabelle Breda: 425-339-3192; [email protected] Twitter: @BredaIsabella.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; [email protected]; Twitter: @dospueblos.