SVSD proposes new tax levy for special election ballot

Special election is Feb. 8.

After receiving unanimous approval from the Snoqualmie Valley School District Board, voters will now decide whether to replace two expiring property tax levies in a Feb. 8 special election.

The district’s current Educational Programs and Operations (EP&O) levy and the technology levy, which were approved by voters in 2018, are set to expire at the end of 2022. Proposed replacements to these levies will need voter approval to take effect beginning in 2023.

Because the state does not fully fund public education, these taxes are used to supplement services or technology that are underfunded — or not funded — by state dollars, said Ryan Stokes, the assistant superintendent. The EP&O levy alone accounts for nearly 20% of district expenditures.

“It seems odd that the state wouldn’t fund some of these things, but they don’t,” Stokes said. “That’s why we’re here.”

Stokes said the proposed levy was produced from 16 hours of work by the board and provides the district flexibility going forward — as it tries to predict its needs for the next half decade. If approved, the levies would last until the end of 2026.

Stokes said the proposal allows the district to support staffing growth and continue to hire quality employees as it deals with an ongoing labor shortage. It also sustains the district’s current programs and expands technology availability throughout the district.

Geoff Doy, board vice president, said the funding will increase equity across the district and ensure that no students get left behind.

“There’s a threat of dealing with inequalities that runs through this,” he said. “That’s important to me.”

The proposal would bring the total tax rate from the district, including both levies and bonds, to about $4 per every $1,000 of assessed property value. That rate is below the district average over the last decade.

The EP&O levy primarily funds staff salaries and benefits, both of which have increased in recent years, Stokes said. The levy funds 90% of the district’s extracurriculars in addition to 88% of its nursing staff and nearly a quarter of its special education program.

The levy includes funding for career and technical education, advanced placement courses and middle school art, music, language and math courses. It also provides funding for extra counselors and extra math and reading specialists at the elementary level.

In 2022, the EP&O tax collected $16.9 million in funding, or about $1.50 per $1,000 in property value.

The proposed levy would collect around $20.5 million in 2023, and rise to $23.4 million in 2026. That is an estimated tax rate of $1.59 and $1.48 per $1,000, respectively.

The second levy, for technology, supports hardware, software, and professional technology staff. It funds laptops for all students in grades 6-12 and additional devices for elementary students. It also funds tech support for staff, software updates, building security and K-5 programming courses.

“It’s important to get [technology] in our district and have our kids exposed to that,” Stokes said. “We want to ensure all students get access and are on the same playing field.”

The levy collected $5.25 million in 2022, about 45 cents per every $1,000. The proposed levy would collect about $8 million in 2023 and rise to $9.8 million in 2026 — an estimated 62 cents per every $1,000.

Ballots for the special election are expected to be mailed by Jan. 19, according to King County Elections. Voters will have until 8 p.m. Feb. 8 to return their ballots.

“I think we’ve had robust conversations and [the board] challenged us to go deeper,” said Superintendent Lance Gibbon. “This plan gives us the ability to adjust and provide a quality education.”