Funds would pay for operational, tech needs over four years
By Marcy Stamper
The Methow Valley School Board is scheduled to vote this week on the superintendent’s recommendations for two levies, one for maintenance and operations (M&O) and one for technology, for a total of more than $4 million over four years.
If approved, the levies would add about $1.80 per $1,000 in valuation to a property-tax bill, according to school district estimates.
The M&O levy would start at $1.8 million and increase by $50,000 in each of the four years, adding another $200,000.
The technology levy is for a total of $2,225,000, to be paid in fairly equal portions over four years, from $525,000 to $575,000.
The two levies replace four-year levies that expire in 2016; if approved, the money would be collected on property taxes starting in 2017.
The existing M&O levy funds about one-fourth of the district’s expenses, including staff, music and art, Spanish, robotics and engineering, athletics, classroom supplies and facilities maintenance, according to information provided by the school district.
The capital projects and technology levy would fund new computers, primarily portable ones that can be used in school or checked out by students, according to Methow Valley School District Superintendent Tom Venable. The levy would allow the district to buy enough computers so that there is one for every student in the school.
Currently, there are computers for all students in grades 3 through 6, but other elementary and high school students share computers through a mobile cart, with only one computer for every two students, said Venable.
Details of how the new computers would be used have not been completely developed. For example, administrators don’t know how long a student would be able to check out a computer, but the computers would be based on campus and not permanently assigned to a student, said Venable. The initiative would help ensure that every student has access to a computer at home, he said. It would also allow the district to replace equipment to keep up with technological advances.
In addition, the levy would fund STEAM education (science, technology, engineering, arts and math), providing video-editing software and 3D printers. It would also acquire adaptive technology for special-education students. The levy would fund instruction in the responsible use of technology and professional development for teachers.
The levies would replace two expiring levies. The M&O levy approved in 2012 started at $1.6 million and increased $50,000 every year, so the proposed replacement would essentially continue on the same schedule. It collects $1.7 million this year and will be $1.75 in 2016.
The expiring technology levy is about half of the proposed replacement levy, collecting $275,000 annually for a total of $1.1 million.
Over the past three fiscal years, the Methow Valley School District has received between 64 and 67 percent of its funding from the state, 5 to 6 percent from federal grants, and 24 to 25 percent from local levies and donations, according to the North Central Educational Service District. The remaining 4 percent comes from miscellaneous sources.
The Methow Valley funds about 2 percent more of its costs through local levies, compared to other schools in Washington, which receive more federal grants.
By state law, the M&O levy can run for up to four years and a technology levy can run for up to six years. Both are for a specific dollar amount, not a tax rate. Because the total assessed valuation of property in the school district typically fluctuates from year to year, the actual amount taxpayers pay also fluctuates.
Property values in the school district have fluctuated, growing from $1.07 billion in 2010 to $1.38 billion in 2011, but dropping again to $1.27 billion in 2015. As a result, the district elected to base projections of costs to taxpayers on a flat-growth scenario in overall property values, said Venable.
If total property values increase, taxpayers would pay less overall; if property values decrease, individual property owners would pay a larger share to come up with the full levy amounts.
Property taxpayers have been paying $1.82 per $1,000 of assessed valuation in 2015 for a bond for the high school roof and the M&O and technology levies. Projections are for that amount to increase to $2.78 per $1,000 of assessed valuation in 2016 because of two levies approved by voters this May for capital projects and transportation. Those two levies will add an estimated total of 90 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, which will drop by 31 cents in 2018 because the transportation levy expires.
If voters approve the new M&O levy, it will add $1.41 per $1,000 of valuation in 2017 and increase to $1.53 in 2020. The technology levy would add about 40 cents annually per $1,000 of valuation.
Assuming no growth in the tax base, the school district projects total costs to taxpayers of $2.98 per $1,000 of valuation in 2017, dropping to $2.82 in 2020.
The facilities levy approved in May is for $4.5 million for improvements and repairs to school buildings and grounds, which will be paid off over six years. The transportation levy is for $800,000 to purchase six school buses, which will be paid over two years.
If the school board directors approve placing the two levies on the ballot, the levy committees will hold informational meetings in January to explain the levies to the public.
The levy proposals were put together by a 22-member task force of staff, students and community members, who studied the district’s needs and the cost to taxpayers for various scenarios.
If approved by the school board directors, the two levies would be put to voters on the Feb. 9 ballot. They are independent of each other, so either one or both could be approved or rejected. They both require a simple majority for passage.
The school board will consider the levies on Wednesday (Dec. 10) at 5:30 p.m. in the school district office.