Voters to decide on two school levies on Feb. 13 ballot

Months after the legislature passed a school funding package to meet the demands of the McCleary lawsuit, education funding is still in the news. That’s because many school districts are about to ask their voters for additional levy dollars in the Feb. 13 special election.

Snoqualmie Valley School District is among them, asking voters to approve two levies: An educational programs and operations levy that would raise an average of $15.5 million annually for four years starting in 2019, at a rate of about $1.50 per $1,000 of a property’s assessed value; and a technology levy that would raise an average of $4.7 million annually for four years starting in 2019, at an estimated rate of about 44 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

These levies, while they represent an overall decrease of about 70 cents in the school district’s total tax levy, come on the heels of an annual property tax increase of about $570 per year in the district. That property tax increase, approved by the legislature in July, will result in roughly an additional $16 million for Snoqualmie Valley School District, for teacher salaries, class size reduction and other costs the deemed basic education by the legislature.

In terms of percentages, Assistant Superintendent Ryan Stokes said the expiring levy represented about 24 percent of the district’s budget. The proposed levy represents only about 16 percent of the budget note.

The proposed levies also represent a significant jump in levy requests from the district since 2010, when the total tech levy amount approved by voters was approximately $10 million and the operations levy was approximately $57 million, not including a $3 million special levy passed by the district during a significant budget shortfall. The February levies, if approved will raise a total of $18.8 million for the district’s technology infrastructure, and a total of $62.2 million in operations funds.

In that same timeframe, since the 2010 levy vote, enrollment at the school increased by 1,000 students, several hundred new teachers were hired and a new elementary school was opened.

Much of the legislature’s education funding package goes to teacher salaries and to reduce class sizes, said Stokes. Currently, the district has an average elementary school class size of 21.1 students. He estimates that the new state funding covers 80 to 90 percent of a teacher’s base salary, an improvement over the 60 percent of past years, but still not fully funded.

Superintendent Joel Aune noted that “There’s a level of service that our community expects that the state doesn’t consider,” in its funding package.

District offerings not funded or underfunded by the legislature next year include special education which several legislators frankly admitted was started but not finished in last year’s action, the district’s preschool, daycare and food service programs, additional work by teachers outside of the classroom, such as committee meetings, and the roughly 30 staff members the district has identified as essential, including school nurses, counselors and teachers who coach other teachers on professional development, that are not part of the state’s funding formula.

For school nurses, for example, the state funding will allow two to three per district, not the one per building that the district has maintained.

“It’s about doing the right thing, but it’s also about liability,” said Aune.

Housing all this staff may become a problem for the district in early 2018, once Stokes completes an annual inventory of district space. None of the increased funding from the state is for facilities but the district does have some space for additional portable, or modular classrooms.

Stokes estimated the district would spend, in addition to the new state funding, an additional $3 million in special education costs, $10 million in additional staff salaries, and close to $2 million in summer school, highly-capable and bilingual programming, food service, day care and extra-curricular costs. For a detailed breakdown of what the levy will fund, visit https://www.svsd410.org/domain/1595.

The levy proposal does include several “improvement opportunities” too, said Aune. These include possibilities in increasing world language, music, art and other program offerings, and reduced student fees.

“Part of this levy does look at opportunities,” he emphasized, in order for the district to remain competitive with neighboring districts and to offer students the best in modern education. “It’s not just about maintaining what we have.”

Technology updates, either to student-facing devices and software or to district infrastructure, are not specifically funded by the state formula, either. As Snoqualmie Valley attempts to provide every student, grade 6 to 12, his or her own personal computing device for use both in school and at home, technology funding will be crucial.

Currently, the district provides all secondary students (grades 7 to 12) their own devices to use at school, and is close to providing all elementary students their own devices for use in school as well, said Assistant Superintendent Jeff Hogan.

Enrollment increases in the past few years have “maxed out” the district’s wi-fi capacity, Hogan said, so that infrastructure needs an update. The district is hoping to establish a 10 GB Internet connection as part of that upgrade. Also, Hogan noted, about 25 percent of the district’s technology is “refreshed” every four to five years.

Ballots for the Feb. 13 levy are expected to be mailed to households in the district this week. Voters must return their ballots to King County Elections by Feb. 13 to be counted. Both levy measures in the Snoqualmie Valley School District require only a simple majority to pass.

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