Editor’s note: Story was updated on 11/4/2019 to correct the levy rate to 62 cents per $1,000, not 19 cents as previously stated.
Taxes would support operations, tech programs
The Methow Valley School Board is eyeing the Feb. 11 election for two property-tax levies that would support student learning.
The board will have the opportunity at its next meeting, on Nov. 13, to decide whether to place an educational programs and operations (EP&O) levy and a technology levy on the February ballot. The two levies would replace existing tax collections, and they would begin in 2021.
The board, at its Oct. 23 meeting, tentatively agreed to dollar amounts for the two four-year levies. The $3.4 million technology levy would bolster the district’s career and technical education (CTE) programs. It would cost property owners an estimated 62 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, 19 cents more per $1,000 than the rate of the current technology levy, which expires in 2020.
For a $300,000 home, that’s about $57 a year.
Board members also favored gradually increasing the amount collected from the next EP&O levy, formerly known as the maintenance and operations (M&O) levy. They are expected to ask voters to approve $2 million in property-tax collections in 2021, with $50,000 increases per year in each of the next three years.
District officials haven’t yet calculated how much the EP&O levy would cost individual taxpayers. Unless recent changes in state law are repealed, the school district would collect less than what it likely will request in the EP&O levy.
The state Legislature placed a cap on levy collections, in the interest of reducing school districts’ reliance on local funding sources. The Methow Valley’s cap is based on the number of students enrolled. The district had anticipated collecting $1.9 million from the EP&O levy this year but is only getting $1.608 million, creating a shortfall of nearly $300,000.
“Our expenditures are outpacing our revenues by about the same amount,” Superintendent Tom Venable told the board at the Oct. 23 meeting.
If that shortfall persists for the next few years, the district will spend all of its reserves by the end of the 2021-22 school year and will be in the red the following year, said Sherry Sloan, the school district’s business manager.
“We need to be lobbying the state pretty intensely during this four-year period,” school board member Frank Kline said.
Even though the district wouldn’t collect the full amount, board members agreed they should go ahead and ask voters to approve an amount that pays for the actual cost of educating students in the Methow Valley. This will create what Jim McNeill, the district’s bond attorney, called a “buffer” that would enable the district to collect the additional funds if enrollment increases sharply, or if the state law changes.
School districts in Washington state historically have favored the month of February for levy measures. Of 3,142 EP&O levies run since 1991, 87% appeared on the ballot in February, as opposed to April, August or November.
February also brought the highest success rate of all four months, at 88.16%, according to data provided to the school board on Oct. 23 by Piper Jaffray Managing Director Trevor Carlson.
Carlson’s data also indicated that running two levies on the same ballot did not reduce the chances of getting either passed.
Both levies would require a simple majority, or 50% plus one vote, to pass. The most recent Methow Valley EP&O and technology levies, in February 2016, received 62% and 60% voter approval, respectively.