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Re-up time for school levies: Snoqualmie district seeks 1/4 of revenues
Ballots should arrive in the Snoqualmie Valley this week for an important school vote, but probably not the one most citizens are thinking about.
At issue in the Feb. 11 election are the renewals of two existing levies worth $18 million, not the much-discussed $216 million facilities bond that the Snoqualmie Valley School Board is considering for a future ballot.
“These are replacement levies… we don’t see them as add-on, or new tax measures,” said Snoqualmie Valley School District Superintendent Joel Aune.
“Essentially, both levies would replace levies that were approved by the voters in 2010, that are set to expire in 2014,” Aune said.
The four-year levies are a flat $2.7 million technology levy specifically for technology in the classroom, a program the district is now training other districts on, and a $15.5 million Educational Programs and Operations (EPO) levy, which increases by $1 million each year. Their effect on tax-payers is an additional 47 cents per thousand levy for technology, and an additional $2.70 per thousand for operations.
Both levy amounts are increased from the current levies, (calculated at 44 cents and $2.48 respectively for this year), reflecting enrollment growth and “the increased cost of doing business,” Aune said. A widening gap in state and other funding makes local levies critical.
“The problem that we have is that the state is … not funding a whole lot of programs and staff that are essential to day-to-day operations,” Aune said, offering the example of classified staff (custodians, cooks, secretaries, etc.) for which the state covers only half the district’s budget. “They very rarely ever fully fund any mandate or requirement.”
Of the school districts in King County, Snoqualmie Valley receives the least state funding per pupil, $8,858 to its general fund in the 2011-12 school year, according to the latest OSPI data, but spends more than it receives — $8,985 from the general fund in that same year.
Local tax dollars are bridging the gap. In Snoqualmie Valley, 24 percent of all general fund revenue is from local levies, and most levy dollars go to staff compensation, not just salaries and benefits, but also incentive pay for teachers, additional school nurses, counselors, bus drivers and coaches, and more teachers to help reduce class sizes.
The number of students in classrooms has been a big issue for the district, in negotiations with teaching staff last fall which nearly led to a teacher strike, and in recent discussions with the community about building new schools. Snoqualmie Valley has more teachers than state funding provides for, but fewer teachers than the state recommends for appropriate class sizes, Business Services Director Ryan Stokes said.
“If we staffed at what the state funded, our schools would look drastically different,” he said.
District-wide, they would have 19 fewer general education teaching positions, according to an OSPI report, which shows the district FTE teacher count at 250, although the state allocation is for 231.
The effect is easily seen at Mount Si High School. The district requires students earn 22 credits to graduate, but “the state is funding at 20 credits,” Stokes said. “That’s five periods a day, but the students are there six periods a day.”
Staffing costs make up 80 percent of the district’s annual general fund expenditures, $55 million in the current budget, and “a fairly good portion of what we negotiate locally comes out of the levy,” Aune said.
A failed levy, he said, would “have a devastating effect” on the district.
He admits that the operations levy amount is “moderately aggressive,” and that the district could exceed its state-imposed levy authority or “levy lid” — there is no limit on technology levies — but adds that the district calculated the bond amounts strategically.
“Most school districts in the region run a max levy,” he explained. “When you look at our neighbors, levying at a higher percentage, we feel we must go to our levy lid in order to be competitive and on par with those districts.”
Ballots should be mailed to all registered voters this week. Return marked ballots by mail, or to election headquarters in Renton weekdays starting Jan. 24, or to a drop box in Bellevue City Hall Feb. 10 or 11, during business hours. King County Elections reminds voters that the price of a first-class stamp increases to 49 cents on Jan. 26.
Next week, the Record will explore the district’s technology in the classroom program and the levy that funds it.
For more information, visit the district website at www.svsd410.org, or find Snoqualmie Valley Citizens for Schools on Facebook.