By Dena Martin
The Times 

School Board Considers Enrichment Levy

Uncertainty about state funding leaves districts guessing

 

December 7, 2017



WAITSBURG – The Waitsburg School Board, like most in the state, is faced with trying to determine an appropriate enrichment levy request amount in the face of financial unknowns created by the McLeary decision, also known as House Bill 2242. The plan was enacted to “fully fund” education, but districts are still unsure how the changes will play out.

ESD 123 Superintendent Darcy Weisner spoke with the board about potential ramifications in October and board members reviewed possible levy request amounts at their November board meeting.

District Superintendent John Mishra suggested requesting a levy amount of $3.55 per $1,000 of assessed value, which was the same as 2017. At that rate, the district would collect approximately $592,800 in 2019 and $616,512 in 2020. The 4% increase each year is due to the “uncertainty and volatility at the state level,” he said.

Under the new law, the state will raise property taxes by .81 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to pay for schools in 2018, but will cap local levies at $1.50/$1,000 or $2,500 per student, whichever is less, beginning in 2019.

Mishra said a rate of $1.50/$1,000 would result in collections of approximately $250,692 leaving the district in the hole between $350,000 to $400,000, depending on what happens at the state level. He said the recommendation from experts is to set the levy rate amount high to provide a buffer in case things don’t go as planned at the state level.

“We don’t know what the state is going to do. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We’ve got a lot of players in the mix. I went through this in Oregon. When the state doesn’t have money, guess who doesn’t have money,” Mishra said.

While the state has increased funding, it has also imposed constraints on how funds can be spent. For example, the state has eliminated the state salary schedule and will instead allocate funds on a statewide payroll average. Enrichment levy funds (formerly maintenance and operations funds) can only be used for specific purposes, and can no longer be used to fund payroll.

On Nov. 15, the Washington Supreme Court agreed 9-0 that the state is not on track to fully fund public education through the McCleary Decision. The Nov. 15 court order required the state to provide the additional $1 billion of salary funding that the state acknowledged would be required to fully fund the new salary model for the 2018-19 school year.

The order also refused to lift current sanctions for failing to fund public education and threatened the possibility of stronger sanctions such as suspension of tax exemptions.

Waitsburg school board members agreed to look further into the levy issue, see what other districts are doing, and wait for more information to come forward prior to making a decision at their Dec. 13 meeting.

 

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