Voters are asked to approve school levies
January 26, 2010
By Chantelle Lusebrink
Editor: This story contains corrected information, indicated by a red asterisk.
The Issaquah School District is asking for voters to approve three levy replacement measures to supplement the district’s budget with more than $214 million by 2014. To pass, 9,908 ‘yes’ votes are needed by the Feb. 9 deadline.
The levy package includes a $172.5 million maintenance and operations levy, a $1.7 million transportation levy, and a $38.4 million technology and critical repairs levy.
“Levies are mandatory for our school district to operate,” said Kelly Munn, co-chair of the pro-levy Volunteers for Issaquah Schools organization. “They were created to provide enhancements to schools, extra things. Over the years they’ve become the bread and butter. They pay for teachers and books.
“If we weren’t to have it, it would be devastating to the education system in Issaquah because such a huge amount, around 20 percent of our budget, is made up of the levies,” she said. “That is huge.”
Not all potential voters, even those with children, are so sure about the levies.
“I’m not opposed to supporting money that is going toward the schools, I’m just questioning where the money actually goes,” said Lee Anna Hayes, a parent.
For Hayes’ vote, she said she would have liked more communication from the district about how the levies would impact her child and other special needs students throughout the district.
“Is it going to the schools in the district with the most need?” Hayes said. “At one point several years ago we voted for the levies, but then they segregated all the special needs children because of cuts and moved them over to a school in Renton. That frustrated all the parents in my area with special needs children. We were settled into our home schools then expected to pick up and go to Apollo. We didn’t think it was fair.
“Now they are saying they need more money for schools but where is that money going to go?”
If approved, taxpayers would pay an estimated $4.81 for every $1,000 of assessed property for all three levies and the remainder of the 2006 bond.
Under the proposal, there would not be a tax increase for the average homeowner nor would the district exceed the total amount taxpayers approve, said Jacob Kuper, district chief of finance. *
“The assumption is that when people see a tax rate increase, it automatically means that taxpayer is paying more actual dollars,” said Sara Niegowski, district communications director. “However, in a situation where our assessed value within the district has dropped so dramatically, that doesn’t automatically hold true.” *
For example, she said, if you paid $100 in taxes for a home worth $100,000 last year, but is now only worth $80,000, the district still needs to collect $100 to maintain its current service levels. Therefore, your tax rate will increase. However, it is only because the value of your home dropped. *
In dollars, however, Kuper says, most homeowners would see their taxes go down.
The total cost of the package for a resident with a $500,000 home would average $2,238, lower than this year’s school taxes of about $2,415 for the same home.
The replacement levies are also for higher amounts, Niegowski said, but that reflects the cost increases for services and goods and population growth.
Population growth also means a larger tax base to pull from, she said.
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; extracurricular activities, such as arts and athletics; and fuel for buses.
In 2006, voters approved a $100 million maintenance and operations levy.
The new maintenance and operations levy will ask residents to approve $172.5 million, up from an original proposal of $155.5 million. On average, the four-year levy will bring in about $43 million annually.
School board members approved the increase to reflect several factors occurring at the state and federal levels, including potential government funding reductions and legislation to increase the state’s levy lid. If the Legislature doesn’t approve a levy lid lift, the district will only collect $155.5 million.
School bus levy
The transportation levy allows district officials to purchase new buses, along with funds provided by the state.
The last transportation levy in 2006 provided the district with $2.8 million to purchase 36 large and 12 small buses.
The one-year 2011 transportation levy will tax each household 9 cents for every $1,000 of assessed property. It will provide the district $1.7 million in 2011 to purchase 41 buses by 2014.
Capital projects levy
The critical repairs component of this dual-purpose levy would generate $5.6 million for building repairs or equipment replacements throughout the district.
The other $32.9 million of the levy would purchase new software, computers and interactive white boards, update buildings currently without wireless Internet, and provide teacher training.
If the levies aren’t approved district officials said they will re-run the measures during the next general or special election after gather feedback from the community.
Issaquah school property tax rate/ per $1,000 assessed valuation *
Year 2006 bond M&O Buses Repairs/tech Total
2010 $2.97 $1.55 $0 $.31 $4.83
2011 $2.18 $2.06 $0.09 $0.48 $4.81
2012 $2.22 $2.13 $0 $0.45 $4.80
2013 $1.53 $2.24 $0 $0.56 $4.33
2014 $1.51 $2.32 $0 $0.48 $4.31
On the Web
Levy information: www.issaquah.wednet.edu/district/levy
Volunteers for Issaquah Schools: www.visvote.org
Chantelle Lusebrink: 392-6434, ext. 241, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.