Board gives go-ahead for Issaquah school levies
July 2, 2013
By Neil Pierson
The Issaquah School Board approved a recommendation June 26 to bring three levy proposals before district voters.
The approval concluded months of planning and discussion within the district. A 45-member levy development committee did much of the work, paving the way for three separate ballot measures in February 2014.
The largest proposal in terms of money is a four-year, $193 million maintenance and operations levy. District officials and board members emphasized the M&O levy pays for current programs and staffing levels, with enrollment growth projections and inflation factored in from 2015 to 2018.
“It’s the largest item in the levy package, but it’s the least controversial from a ballot perspective,” board president Brian Deagle said.
State law allows public school districts to collect up to 28.97 percent of its general fund revenue from a levy, and Issaquah plans to collect the full amount.
The other ballot measures are a one-year, $1.7 million transportation levy that would pay for 71 new school buses, and a four-year, $51.9 million capital levy relating to technology.
Issaquah taxpayers are currently charged the equivalent of $4.74 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The rate would rise to $4.93 from 2015-18, which equates to an increase of $95 per year on a $500,000 home.
Jake Kuper, the district’s chief of finance and operations, said the actual levy amounts aren’t set in stone and wouldn’t be until a state budget was approved. When the school board met last week, the state Legislature was still hashing out budget details.
Ballot language will be developed over the next few months, Kuper said, and will come before the board sometime in the fall.
Board members feel passage of the M&O levy was critical to the future of Issaquah schools.
“A large part of this package goes toward backfilling areas that aren’t completely funded” by the state, board member Suzanne Weaver said. “If it were to fail, it would have huge impacts on our schools that we do not even want to imagine.”
“We have a history of really vetting these things out,” said Ron Thiele, who officially became Issaquah’s superintendent July 1 after Steve Rasmussen’s retirement.
“I think it’s important for the public to know how seriously we take this,” he added. “…This is how funding of pubic education works in Washington state.”
The board spent much of the June 26 meeting poring over details of the capital levy. Half of the district’s personnel expenses for technology-related duties would come from the capital levy, said Colleen Dixon, executive director of educational technology.
Three “critical enhancements” are also part of the proposal, Dixon said. One would spend $1.33 million to partially pay the cost of Skyward — an online student information system for parents — and free up general fund dollars for other purposes.
The second enhancement would spend $395,000 for an online student registration system, eliminating paperwork and record-keeping duties. The third enhancement would spend $140,000 on staff members to train on various technology topics.
The district is also looking to add more wireless devices and laptops at schools, as well as purchase more bandwidth and fiber-optic cables for online purposes. One reason involves a state mandate for online testing requirements beginning in the 2014-15 school year.
On a normal school day, Thiele said, the district uses 60 percent of its bandwidth. The new tests would likely push the system’s maximum capacity.
“My concern is when thousands of students hit that system at the same time, taking their assessments,” Thiele said.
In the 2016-17 year, the district plans to spend $250,000 to overhaul the TechSmart computing labs at each of its five middle schools.
“We can make sure all of the kids in all of the classrooms have exactly the same machines,” Dixon said.