Board considers $193 million school levy

May 19, 2009

By Chantelle Lusebrink

The Issaquah School District’s proposed 2010 levy package would supplement the district’s strapped budget with more than $193 million by 2014 if the school board members and voters approve it.Superintendent Steve Rasmussen and administrative officials presented school board members with the proposed levy package May 13.

A vote will come after board members have had time to study the proposal, take community input and discuss them.

The package consists of three levies: A maintenance and operations levy, a transportation levy and a capital levy, which includes critical repairs and technology.

The whole package could bring in $214 million over the next four years if the Legislature approves a bill to allow school districts to lift their levy lid. Issaquah’s levy lid would go from 24.97 percent to 28.97 percent.

However, under either proposal, there would not be a tax increase nor would the district exceed the tax rate promised by district officials, said Jake Kuper, chief of finance and operations for the district.

For instance, under the nearly 25-percent levy, the proposed tax rate would be $3.83 per thousand of assessed value in 2011, and under the nearly 29-percent levy, it would be $3.93 per thousand for the same year.

Traditionally, district officials run their levies in conjunction with a construction bond. In the face of trying economic times and the fact that several projects are yet to be completed from the 2006 bond, district officials and school board members decided not to run one.

District officials could run an off-cycle school bond, if it is necessary, in 2012.

With state funding being slashed in education, “if there is a double failure, which won’t happen, it would be four to five times worse than the cuts we’re seeing now,” said Ron Thiele, assistant superintendent, to school board members. “Right now, we’re seeing cuts between $7 million and $8 million.”

It costs $250,000 and countless hours by volunteers to run an election, which is why the district always hopes to pass a levy package on the first vote.

District officials are asking for the community’s input as they consider the recommendation.

Levies 101

Levies are necessary for school districts to sustain service and operations levels.

The state’s paramount duty is to fund education. However, its funding model hasn’t changed since 1977 and districts are continually underfunded. To help provide all that is necessary in a students’ education, like textbooks and technology, districts are allowed by law to ask the community to increase taxes to supplement the district’s budget, according to the district’s Web site.

The amount districts are allowed to ask for varies from district to district, but most districts ask taxpayers to supplement about 20 percent of their budget.

Bonds are money the district can ask taxpayers for in addition to their levies. However, bond monies approved by voters can only be used for the capital budget, to build new schools or additions to schools. It can’t be used for the operation of schools like levies can.

To ensure the levies are something the community would support, district officials commissioned a Levy Committee to help them explore options.

Volunteer community members created the levy package with help from the district officials. For each levy, the group considered the burden on taxpayers and the district’s needs in coming years.

Maintenance and operations:

The Maintenance and Operations Levy covers the state’s shortfall for special education, teacher salaries, highly capable learners, English language learners, advanced placement and honors courses, and extracurricular activities, such as arts and athletics and fuel for buses, according to the district Web site.

On average, the levy would bring in $25.9 million annually for the district.

Transportation:

The transportation levy allows district officials to purchase new buses, which improves fuel efficiency, sustainability and safety.

The last transportation levy in 2006 provided the district with $2.8 million, which allowed officials to purchase 36 large and 12 small buses.

The one-year 2011 transportation levy will tax each household 7 cents for every $1,000 of assessed property. It will provide the district $1.7 million between 2011 and 2014 to purchase 41 buses.

Capital — technology and critical repairs:

The total revenue from the technology portion of the levy over four years would be $40.4 million.

The technology piece would enable district officials to purchase new software and computers, update buildings without wireless or active boards, and pay for training on new software. The technology component would bring in about $34.8 million in four years.

The critical repairs piece would be about $5.6 million over four years and would enable district officials to repair or replace maintenance, transportation, kitchen and building equipment that is ailing or replace a school roof or carpets.

On the Web

www.issaquah.wednet.edu/ district/levy/committee.aspx

Reach Reporter Chantelle Lusebrink at 392-6434, ext. 241, or clusebrink@isspress.com. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.
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