Operations, tech proposals will be on ballot
The Methow Valley School District on Wednesday (Nov. 13) adopted resolutions putting two tax measures on the Feb. 11 ballot.
Voters will be asked to approve two four-year property tax levies. An educational programs and operations (EP&O) levy would be used to pay for educational costs not covered by state funding.
The same ballot will ask voters to approve or reject a $3.4 million technology levy, with $850,000 collected annually over four years, starting in 2021.
Both measures would replace existing levies that expire in 2020, and both will require the support of a simple majority of voters in order to pass.
With the EP&O levy, the district is asking for $8.3 million over four years: $2 million in 2021, with $50,000 added each year over the following three years.
Under current state law, the district won’t collect that much, however. In an effort to reduce school districts’ reliance on local funding, the state uses a formula that caps the Methow Valley’s EP&O levy at $2,500 per student. As a result, the district is only collecting $1.608 million in 2019, although voters agreed to be taxed a total of $1.9 million.
Over the cap
The school board decided to ask for an amount officials determined was necessary to meet the district’s expenses, even though it is above the state cap, in case legislators remove the cap in a future session. Also, the higher amount allows the district to collect more funds if the student population continues to grow.
As long as the state cap is in place, the district will need to spend its reserve fund to balance the budget, according to district officials. Under the current trend, the reserve will be fully spent and the district will be in the red after the 2021-22 school year.
Nevertheless, school board member Frank Kline said on Nov. 13 the district financially is “in a pretty good position right now.”
“This will be short-lived, if we’re lucky, statewide because the Legislature is working to correct the inequity of the program they initiated,” Kline said, referring to the cap.
“Through good prior management, we have a savings account, in effect, which we can rely on if the Legislature doesn’t act quickly enough,” Kline added, referring to the reserve fund.
If the district were to collect the full amount on the upcoming EP&O levy, it would cost property owners an estimated $1.46 per $1,000 of assessed value in 2021, or $438 on a $300,000 home. With the state cap in place, the levy rate in 2021 would be lower — $1.33 per $1,000, or $400 on a $300,000 property.
Under the existing EP&O levy, property owners this year are paying $1.20 per $1,000 ($359 per $300,000).
With the second levy that will appear on the Feb. 11 ballot, the board decided to increase its investment in technology-based education. The $3.4 million four-year levy would replace the existing four-year tech levy, which is collecting a total of $2.225 million.
If the tech levy passes, the rate per $1,000 of assessed property value would increase relative to the current tech levy by 19.4 cents, from 42.2 cents per $1,000 in 2020 to 61.6 cents in 2021. The increase amounts to an additional $58.20 on a $300,000 home.
Most of the tech levy funds — $2.1 million of the $3.4 million — would be spent on staff salaries and benefits, according to Superintendent Tom Venable. The rest would go to maintaining the hardware that is available to students, and creating “innovation labs” at each of the three schools that would give students access to specialized equipment used in industry, Venable said.
The details of the two levies had been all but finalized at the board’s previous meeting, on Oct. 23. The board waited until last week to call for the Feb. 11 elections.